Steelers go from vindication to possible horrific Antonio Brown scenario

Kimberley A. MartinSenior NFL writer

With each passing day, and every perplexing plot twist of the Antonio Brown melodrama, it was clear the Pittsburgh Steelers were the true winners.

It was only months ago that they were ripped for accepting mere third- and fifth-round picks in exchange for the game’s greatest of weapons. But as Brown lay waste to Oakland this past week, engulfing the entire organization in a firestorm of madness that included a recorded conversation of Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and an Instagram post demanding his release from his team of six months, it was Brown’s former club that looked like geniuses.

Antonio Brown won't face his former team, the Steelers, on Sunday night. But a rematch could present itself in the AFC playoffs now that Brown is a Patriot. (AP)
Antonio Brown won't face his former team, the Steelers, on Sunday night. But a rematch could present itself in the AFC playoffs now that Brown is a Patriot. (AP)
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After years of dealing with Brown’s diva-like antics and his vanishing act before their biggest game of 2018, the Steelers were content to be like the rest of us — casual observers of Brown’s destructive behavior and the demise of his good standing with Oakland’s front office.

Brown, and his baggage, were the Raiders’ headache now. And vindication belonged to Mike Tomlin and the Steelers.

Good riddance, right?

Not so fast.

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Pittsburgh presumed it had finally rid itself of its worst problem, but no one in the organization could have foreseen this: Their worst nightmare potentially standing in their path to an AFC title and, possibly, a Super Bowl.

Brown’s calculated finesse move — orchestrating his exit out of Oakland and away from Gruden’s old-school ways and the Raiders’ suspect roster — landed him in the promised land.

In Foxborough.

Right at the doorstep of Bill Belichick.

The evil genius, who embarrassed Sean McVay’s upstart Los Angeles Rams to win Super Bowl LIII, has now joined forces with the devilishly-clever diva, who proved this week that he’s as talented an actor as he is receiver.

The only thing missing from this soap opera-style saga is Brown’s presence on the sideline Sunday night at Gillette Stadium when the Steelers face the Patriots. (A league spokesman confirmed to NFL Network that Brown is not allowed “to be with or around the team” because he is not “officially” a member of the Patriots.) Nevertheless, business is “boomin” on Patriots Way.

Meanwhile, Tomlin and the Steelers will undoubtedly insist that nothing has changed from their perspective. As far as they’re concerned, Brown is a part of their past. Just like running back Le’Veon Bell.

Two weeks ago, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert stressed the importance of focusing on the future — not outside perception or the drama brewing in Oakland.

“Everybody has a right to an opinion and things will be written or talked about that we may not necessarily agree with,” Colbert said in a recent phone interview with Yahoo Sports, referring to the criticisms the organization received for dealing Brown, who caught 837 receptions for 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns for Pittsburgh, for arguably so little. “And it really doesn't matter what our perception is on the outside as long as we know that we're doing what's right on the inside.

“Mr. Rooney, who passed, taught us a long time ago to always do what's right. And if you asked him, ‘Well, what's right?’ he would simply reply, ‘If you don't know. then you shouldn't be in the position you're in.’ So we always feel that we try to handle everything the right way. But we also know that people may not perceive it that way. But if we feel good from the inside, then great. And last year we didn't feel good because we were 9-6-1. And there's various reasons why we were, but simply we weren't good enough. And that was more tangible than intangible.”

Of course, that was before Brown manipulated his way out of Oakland, embarrassed Gruden and Raiders general manager Mike Mayock in the process, and latched on with the defending Super Bowl champions. All in the span of 24 hours.

Coach Mike Tomlin and Antonio Brown spent nine seasons together in Pittsburgh. (AP)
Coach Mike Tomlin and Antonio Brown spent nine seasons together in Pittsburgh. (AP)

After years of coddling the uber-talented, me-first prima donna, Pittsburgh agreed to eat an eye-popping $21 million in salary cap just to get rid of Brown. But in doing so, the Steelers unwittingly delivered Brown to an untenable Raiders situation and ultimately paved the way for the receiver’s greatest disappearing act.

Two savages have now converged in New England.

Belichick, the greatest football mind in the game. And Brown, the game’s most maddening and electrifying offensive weapon.

And they both have their sights on the biggest prize of all: a Super Bowl.

Steelers be damned.

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