The Pittsburgh Steelers played the last game of the regular season, a game they had to win against the Cincinnati Bengals to keep their chances of making the playoffs alive, without All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown.
Brown turned up during the week with what was reportedly a knee issue, but it turns out it wasn’t a knee injury at all.
And now one former Pittsburgh player believes it’s time for the team to move on from the mercurial receiver.
Meanwhile, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger acted on Tuesday like there had been no issue between he and Brown.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette reported that Brown had a disagreement with a teammate last Wednesday during a walkthrough, and NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala reported that teammate was Ben Roethlisberger.
Brown didn’t practice for the rest of the week. The Post-Gazette reported it was Brown’s decision not to do so, citing a source.
On Saturday, when the Steelers held their final walkthrough and evening meeting at the team hotel, Brown was nowhere to be found.
He still showed up at Heinz Field on Sunday expecting to play, and did not, and kudos to the Steelers for sitting their best player in a game where they obviously could have used him.
Kinkhabwala reported that Brown left the stadium at halftime.
On Monday, during final team meetings, Brown again was a no-show.
Brown finished the season with 104 catches for 1,297 yards and an NFL-best 15 touchdowns in 15 games.
Roethlisberger: ‘I didn’t see it’
During his weekly appearance on Pittsburgh station 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday, Roethlisberger somewhat oddly pleaded ignorance to any incident between him and Brown.
“That’s what’s baffling to me, people are making a big deal about a walkthrough on Wednesday, a fight between he and I. If there was a blow up or something, I sure as heck didn’t see it,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not sure where that comes from.”
He added that he spoke to Brown on Thursday morning and felt everything was fine, though he reached out after that and hasn’t gotten a response. Other Steelers players have also reached out to Brown and not gotten a response, which Roethlisberger acknowledged is frustrating for them.
Asked about Brown’s future with the team, Roethlisberger said, “I’m obviously not the coach and the owner. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I love Antonio and wish him nothing but the best. I hope he’s back with me because he makes me better.”
Was Roethlisberger covering for his teammate because he feels he needs Brown for a chance at a Super Bowl run in 2019?
Time to go?
ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, who was teammates with Brown in Pittsburgh for the first four seasons of Brown’s career, was on the network’s flagship “Sportscenter” Monday night and was highly critical of Brown as a player and person, going so far as to say it’s time for Pittsburgh to send Brown packing.
With the caveat that we don’t fully know the relationship between Clark and Brown and whether Clark has some long-standing beef with the receiver, here’s what Clark said.
“Antonio has been a guy who’s been a ‘me’ guy. He’s been a guy who’s self-centered in a way where he cares about the individual stats, how I’m being treated, how I’m being perceived or portrayed,” Clark said. “But the one guy you can’t have infighting with is Ben Roethlisberger. There are many players in the organization that Antonio Brown is above – Ben is not one of those people.
“But for it to get to a point where he’s held out of this game, a must-win for the Pittsburgh Steelers, when you see him on the sideline in a mink coat before the game, not Pittsburgh Steelers gear, not sideline gear, totally separate from team, that lets you know this is an issue that’s not about today or yesterday, it’s been something that’s happening through the year and his career.”
Show host Scott Van Pelt wondered how Brown could have jeopardized his availability for a game his team had to win, and Clark again hammered Brown’s selfishness.
“When you’re Antonio Brown and you have the mindset that he has, he’s above that. You’re never going to touch Antonio Brown,” Clark said. “Quick story: Antonio Brown is walking past the weight room in training camp [in 2012], Antonio’s going into his third year, we hear that Mike Wallace has turned down his deal. And I knew already that they were going to offer [a contract extension to] Antonio. And he’s walking past and I turned to the strength coach and I said, ‘when you give him money, you’re going to create a monster.’
“That day in practice, Antonio and I almost get into a fight because he’s saying things to [defensive coordinator Dick] Lebeau, he’s screaming at coach Lebeau, he’s screaming at us defensively, ‘don’t touch me, I’m the franchise!’ Because he already had that mindset, and now with success, with money, these things come.
“You hear more about him, some things we don’t need to bring up now, but when it comes to being a good teammate, when it comes to just being supportive, understanding that you’re trying to achieve one goal, that doesn’t matter to him. What matters to him is 19 attempts, 14 catches, 185 yards, two touchdowns against the Saints [Brown’s numbers in Week 16].”
Van Pelt wondered how the Steelers will move on from this – Kinkhabwala said that coach Mike Tomlin hadn’t addressed Brown’s behavior with the rest of the team, which is odd – and Clark believes they can’t.
“This is where Mike Tomlin has to put his foot down and shop Antonio Brown. Obviously you want to get something for him; he’s one of the best wide receivers in the league, matter of fact, he’s one of the best football players in the league.
“JuJu Smith-Schuster has shown you he can be a No. 1. Ben Roethlisberger speaks glowingly of James Washington. This is about the fabric of the team. This is the guy that goes on Facebook Live [after a January 2017 playoff game] as your coach is talking and leaks information outside the locker room that never should be there. This is about the guy that publicly talks about not getting the ball or issues with the offensive coordinator, knocks over garbage cans or knocks over Gatorade bottles because he doesn’t get the rock.
“At some point, when you’re an organization that’s built on team, an organization that’s built on integrity, you have to show the rest of the locker room that. Will he be good going forward? Probably so. But you have to take that stand. …Time for him to go.”
Brown responds, sort of
Early Tuesday morning, record-setting San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle sent out a short tweet intended for Brown: “Sup? @AB84”
Brown saw it and responded simply with a smiley face emoji with stars in its eyes.
The 30-year-old Brown has three years left on his current contract, with an average base salary of $12.13 million per year.
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