NFL Network’s report on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown being overly concerned with his own stats had a fairly significant error, and yet the response to the report from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suggests that the report was largely correct.
The error was in claiming that Brown was upset because he was “wide open” on the play when the Steelers scored their first touchdown and didn’t get the ball thrown his way. Brown wasn’t “wide open” at all; it was a running play and Brown was blocking Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. And yet NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala twice used that play as the basis for her larger report that Brown is too focused on his own stats.
“When DeAngelo Williams scored the Steelers’ first touchdown, Antonio Brown was open in the back of the end zone,” Kinkhabwala said in one report. “He hung his head after that touchdown. He was the last player to walk off the field.”
“DeAngelo Williams scores the Steelers’ first touchdown, Antonio Brown was wide open in the back of the end zone, and he pouted,” Kinkhabwala said in another report. “He pouted. His team just scored a touchdown and he was upset that he was wide open and Roethlisberger didn’t go to him. . . . He was the last player off the field.”
But that simply isn’t what happened. Brown was blocking on the running play when Williams scored the Steelers’ first touchdown. And Brown hadn’t been “wide open” on the pass play prior to that, either: Roethlisberger had first looked to Brown in the end zone before checking down because Brown wasn’t open. In fact, on the replay CBS showed immediately before Williams’ touchdown, commentator Phil Simms specifically pointed out that Brown wasn’t getting open because the Patriots were double-teaming him.
“Any time you get inside the 20 they’re going to double-team your best players. You see Malcolm Butler, there’s the safety over the top, Devin McCourty,” Simms said of the Patriots covering Brown.
The TV feed doesn’t provide a good enough look at Brown’s face to see whether or not he was “pouting,” but he certainly didn’t look unhappy when Williams scored. He put his arms up as soon as Williams stuck the ball over the goal line. He then proceeded to go into the end zone where his teammates were celebrating.
Was Brown the last one off the field? A shot of the Steelers’ sideline before the extra point showed Brown and Roethlisberger both reaching the sideline at about the same time, in the area where Tomlin was standing. There was no indication that any of them exchanged words. (Not to mention that some of the Steelers who were on the field for the touchdown stayed on the field for the extra point, so Brown was obviously off the field before those players.)
But the part about Brown being “wide open” and being the last off the field isn’t the most important part of the NFL Network report. The truly significant part — the part we focused on when we first mentioned it on Tuesday — is that the Steelers have a concern that Brown is too focused on his own stats. And that more important part of the report is the part where the Steelers’ response was interesting.
When Tomlin was asked about it on Tuesday, he easily could have dismissed the report and pointed out the inaccuracy in Brown being “wide open.” Instead, Tomlin said he didn’t see pouting but then switched focus to say he’s going to continue to challenge Brown.
And when Roethlisberger was asked about it on his radio show on Tuesday, he seemed to indirectly confirm that Brown was pouting: Roethlisberger said he thinks Brown is such a great player that his play overshadows “extra stuff” he does, and Roethlisberger specifically mentioned pouting as part of that “extra stuff.”
“He’s one of the best in the business, and the plays that he makes and has made over his career are so special,” Roethlisberger said of Brown. “I think sometimes that overshadows the extra stuff: the hands up, the arms up, the frustrations, the pouting, the things like that.”
Between Tomlin and Roethlisberger’s reactions to the report and Tomlin’s use of the word “selfish” to describe Brown last week after his Facebook Live fiasco, there seems to be a lot of truth to the idea that the Steelers aren’t exactly thrilled with the attitude of their star receiver. That shouldn’t get lost in the inaccurate description of one particular play.