High on the list of things the Pittsburgh Steelers did not want to see is the very thing that will soon be confronting them.
Antonio Brown is joining one of their chief rivals, the New England Patriots.
It didn’t help that, on top of the weekend’s head-spinning news, the Steelers were thumped, 33-3, by the Patriots on Sunday night. For the first time since Brown agreed to play in New England, Steelers players had to face reporters. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood in the media room and was asked his thoughts on the matter. His response?
It stung because of Brown’s stellar talent and perhaps because of an ESPN report that the Patriots had tried to trade for Brown in the spring, only to be rebuffed by the Steelers because they didn’t want him playing for a rival and because the way in which the Patriots ended up with running back LeGarrette Blount in 2014 still stung. So, instead of taking the Patriots’ first-round draft pick (No. 32, but a first-round pick is a first-round pick) for Brown, they sent him to Oakland. And watched as Brown got himself fired by the Raiders and wound up in New England, which gave up only money and kept all its draft picks. For their efforts, the Steelers came away with third- and fifth-round draft picks.
“Please don’t ever ask me about him again,” guard Ramon Foster said. “I ask that respectfully.”
Coach Mike Tomlin was asked for his reaction to the signing. “I have none,” he said. “He didn’t play for them tonight, he wasn’t going to play for them tonight, he wasn’t going to play for anyone this weekend. So, didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it or dwelling on it.”
Tomlin added: “I’m not specifically worried about anything relative to Antonio Brown, I’m worried about the guys in the locker room. The quality of the execution and what we did or didn’t do. Antonio’s been off our team for a number of months. We moved on from that stuff in March.”
JuJu Smith-Schuster, one of the receivers tasked with replacing Brown, avoided using his name. “People always are going to talk about not having certain players that we had last year,” he said. “I think this year, the guys that we have here … we’ve just got to make our plays. If we make our plays, it’s crucial. It’s a game-changer.”
As for the devastation left in the wake of Brown’s departure, Tomlin said there was “no need to sugarcoat” how the Steelers played.
“We weren’t ready for prime time tonight,” he said. “All of us. Not a good enough plan. Not a good enough execution of that plan. That’s the nature of this thing. It’s humbling. It [stinks]. But that’s the National Football League. It won’t define us if we don’t let it. That’s what we talked about in [the locker room].”
Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton said the Brown drama was “all behind us. We’ll worry about the guys in this locker room and what we need to get better.”
Only Patriots Coach Bill Belichick had less to say about the acquisition, cutting off reporters questions. “Do you have any comment …” “No.” “On Antonio Brown?” “Next.”
Josh Gordon, the talented but troubled wide receiver, has been in the position of having to put headlines behind him and make the most of an opportunity in New England. He has struggled with off-the-field issues, but played Sunday night and has found a home with the Patriots. “Antonio is Antonio,” he said. “He’s going to have to figure out his own way, just like everybody else has.”
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