Much was made of Mike Tomlin's decision to bench Antonio Brown on the Steelers' final offensive drive against the New England Patriots. Antonio Brown ran what seemed to be, and turned out to be, a wrong route that led to a fourth quarter interception by the Patriots.
You could see the confusion from the receivers who soon realized the miscue, and the frustration from Ben Roethlisberger once he saw the mistake from Brown. It was another episode of what had been a very bad day for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Subsequently, Roethlisberger and the offense got one more opportunity to drive down the field and score more points for Pittsburgh, but without their leading receiver Antonio Brown. Brown was effectively benched by Tomlin, who later explained that it was due to failures on Brown's end to execute assignments given to him.
Brown is a receiver who, earlier this season, was noted for yelling at offensive coordinator Todd Haley for more targets in the Steelers' offense, and is on pace for more single season catches than any other Steeler in the franchise's history.
Benching him may come off as not the best idea, but the same receiver who wanted more targets, is actually supporting Tomlin's decision.
When asked about how the interactions with Tomlin went down after the interception and prior to the following offensive drive, Brown described it as such:
"Coach got me and Ben together [on the sideline} and talked about the execution of the play and what transpired," said Brown. "From there, coach thought it was best I don’t go back in the game for the last series, so he came to me and told me we’re going to keep you out this series but just stay with me."
So was Brown irate at Tomlin's decision? Wouldn't there be expected backlash in the media this week about the decision after his "incident" with Haley earlier this season? Despite what anyone might have expected, Brown responded like a true veteran.
"I can’t afford to be in miscommunication with Ben. I can’t afford to not have my depth and not be where I need to be. Being on this football team and being the No. 1 guy, I got to take responsibility to give the team my best, and coach thought I wasn't giving my best. Coach made the right decision."
Seemingly in line with how Tomlin took responsibility for faults when blame could have been laid elsewhere in the organization, and along the lines of what Neal Coolong called for in this earlier article, Brown took the load of blame on his own shoulders didn't point fingers at anyone but himself, and leaves it at that.
No excuses, no nonsensical explanations, just straightforward about what he didn't do, and what he needs to do. When you make a mistake, that is usually the best route of a response when asked about it. Brown keeps every bit of negativity from the published discussion on him for what transpired and keeps the team out from any ridiculous comments that could cause an unnecessary circus for the media to stir up in the locker room.
Whether Brown rectifies it with his leadership and play on the field is a different matter, but not entirely. It took some years of losing before Joey Porter became the leader he was for Pittsburgh in their run to super bowl XL. These years of struggle may be the furnishings of a ballplayer into a refined expert who can lead a group of players both by his execution and his attitude.
When you're losing however, it's the little things that are said that keep your team from going from just a losing team, to a full-blown circus with more turmoil than just losing games for everyone to point at. Brown defused several bombs that could have exploded here had he been a less mature individual.