When the stuff hit the fan last Saturday and former Steelers receiver Antonio Brown was released by the Raiders, his new team, you could just feel the validation welling up in your heart, right?
The Steelers organization spent a great deal of the offseason being vilified nationally for the Brown drama that saw him get shipped off to Oakland in the spring in exchange for a third and fifth round draft pick.
“This was Ben Roethlisberger’s fault!” “This was Mike Tomlin’s fault!” “Brown was just trying to get what’s fair and what’s just!”
Steelers fans knew the real deal about Brown. More importantly, the Steelers organization knew the real deal about a man who couldn’t have been a worse teammate, whose selfishness and narcissistic behavior was almost brilliantly kept in-check and mostly under wraps for years.
With Brown now gone—and the locker room “cleansed” to quote the head coach—you could almost feel a sea change with the Steelers and their chemistry.
It was all for one and one for all. It was going to be different without Brown, sure, but in the most positive way as the team prepared for the 2019 regular season.
Back to Brown and his release last Saturday. Upon hearing this, many of the great conspiracy theorists out there insisted Brown would immediately sign with the Patriots, Pittsburgh’s Week 1 opponent (not to mention, its long-time tormentor).
I thought that was silly, that New England didn’t want and wouldn’t put up with Brown and his antics.
Then, as if on cue—and just when I was getting a little too optimistic about the Steelers, their season and even their Week 1 chances in their House of Horrors (better known as Gillette Stadium)—news broke that Brown had signed a one-year deal with New England.
For whatever reason, my whole outlook changed. I began to experience this dreadful feeling. These Patriots, they were truly evil but in the most genius kind of way.
Social media didn’t sooth this feeling, as Brown quickly went from being a clown and mental patient who clearly needed help, to the final piece of the Patriots next Super Bowl title.
Yes, Brown went from being everything that was wrong with the NFL, to being another example of what was right with the Patriots and how they conduct championship business.
While Brown was a problem child here and in Oakland, they weren’t going to put up with his mess in New England’s locker room. He landed in just the right place and with just the right team. It was another display of genius by Bill Belichick. He orchestrated the whole thing, was the general feeling. The Raiders were played by the Patriots’ short game. The Steelers were played by the Patriots’ long game (it was revealed that New England was willing to part with its first-round pick for Brown back when Pittsburgh first began shopping him around).
I spoke to a friend hours before the Steelers/Patriots Week 1 match-up and he half-joked, “Do you want my season tickets? I don’t even feel like using them if the league is just going to rig everything in favor of the Patriots.”
Ridiculous, but I had a hard time believing this wasn’t true even as my lips said otherwise. Whatever optimism I had for that night’s game had disappeared—and Brown wasn’t even going to play.
It was just startling, this move by the Patriots. This team will do whatever it wants, regardless of public perception. Why? Because when you win as much as they have, you control your own narrative.
The Steelers didn’t win because Brown affected their chemistry. The Patriots will win with Brown because they won’t allow him or anyone else to derail their train.
Then, the game happened on Sunday, and almost predictably, the Patriots owned the Steelers from beginning to end. New England put on the same clinic it always does whenever Pittsburgh travels to Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots’ performance in a 33-3 victory let the whole world know that their demise was, indeed, greatly exaggerated. And it let the Steelers and their fans know that they’ll once again be playing for second place in the AFC.
How can you not think that way?
Back to my friend who wanted to give away his season tickets. I remember talking to him about those final, anxious moments in the Steelers/Chiefs divisional round playoff game from two-plus years ago (Pittsburgh prevailed, 18-16). I’m paraphrasing, of course, but he said something along the lines of: “Yeah, I was super nervous, but at the same time, I thought, ‘Why am I so nervous? Even if they win, they have no shot next week in New England.’”
I thought that was crazy talk, but the Patriots spent the entire AFC title game showing why my friend was justified for feeling that way.
I’m serious when I say this, but after Sunday night, it kind of feels like winning the AFC North title should be the ultimate goal. That’s right, much like a college football team with two or three losses that recalculates winning the conference as its most realistic goal, owning the North may be all the Steelers can hope for in 2019.
Unless the Steelers can find a way to build a better overall record than New England, I don’t see them getting to the Super Bowl. I just can’t envision a scenario in-which they travel to Gillette Stadium for a postseason clash and even make a game of it.
This is likely the mindset of most Steelers fans, especially after Sunday, especially after the Brown signing.
I’ve been saying since Saturday that, if there’s one guy who can take the Patriots dynasty down, it’s Antonio Brown. But the reality is, the Patriots don’t need Brown, and the first sign of trouble (as of this writing, Brown is still a member of the Patriots despite being accused of sexual assault), and they will send him packing.
No, the Patriots don’t need a player like Brown to defeat the Steelers or anyone else in the NFL for that matter.
Until Tom Brady finally retires, until someone in the AFC East stands up and fights them hard, the Patriots will continue to be the standard in the NFL.
The Steelers should be able to stand up and go toe-to-toe with the Patriots, but they’ve never been able to develop the kind of fighting style necessary to deal with them.
And if they haven’t found the right style over the past 17 years, I doubt they will over the next five months.
Maybe the Chiefs will take New England out. Maybe the Steelers can get to the Super Bowl, after all.
That’s right, I’m hoping another team does the Steelers dirty work in 2019.
Not a surprising thought, just one I never thought I’d admit in a Steelers article.