Last Sunday, two Super Bowl hopefuls faced off in what was an exciting battle between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both teams have no shortage of offensive weapons and it showed, with Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady combining for over 800 passing yards to a number of different targets. But, while Tyreek Hill was torching Tampa Bay with over 250 receiving yards and Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans were racking up the receptions for the Buccaneers, two former Steelers were uncharacteristically quiet. Those players were of course Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Brown hauled in just two catches for 11 yards and Bell ran the ball just five times for 22 yards, adding 10 more through the air. While Ben Roethlisberger is leading the Steelers to a scorching hot start, the other two of Pittsburgh's "Killer B's" have had hardly any impact on their new teams. Considering that they were both perennial All-Pros when they were with the Steelers, their lack of production begs the question of what went so terribly wrong for Bell and Brown.
Out of the two, Antonio Brown's downfall is a bit less surprising. After Pittsburgh drafted him in the 6th round, AB entered the league with a tremendous chip on his shoulder. He saw very limited action in his rookie season but broke out in year two, compiling over 1100 yards and making the Pro Bowl. His sophomore season set him on a path to record three-digit receptions six years in a row (2013-2018). Brown was on pace to set a number of records and was looking to solidify himself as one of the greatest receivers of all time.
Unfortunately, off-the-field issues slowly derailed his path to excellence. From live streaming a private locker room conversation on Facebook to throwing furniture out of his window, AB couldn't seem to keep himself out of the headlines. His problems came to a head during week 17 of the 2018 season when a fight with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led to Brown being benched for the final game of the season. Not long after, he requested a trade and was sent packing to Oakland, where he would only last a few months before being cut for (you guessed it!) more off-the-field issues. He followed that up with a short one-game stint with the Patriots but didn't last long there either, this time due to sexual assault allegations.
Brown spent much of the off-season trying to fight his way back to the league. Through communications with the Commissioners office and a number of apologies on social media, AB garnered enough sympathy and respect to earn reinstatement following week 8 of the 2020 season. Following the release of this information, the Tampa Buccaneers wasted little time signing the veteran receiver, pairing him with six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. Analysts across the league thought that this move would make Tampa Bay nearly unbeatable. After all, they already had an elite receiver core featuring Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and boasted a top ten defense. However, the opposite result has occurred. Since Brown's first game with the team, the Buccaneers have gone just 1-3 (prior to his arrival they were 6-2). To be fair, they have faced some difficult competition. The Rams, Saints, and Chiefs are all tough opponents, but with the abundance of talent on their roster, one would've thought they could have won at least one of those games.
What's even more interesting is how irrelevant Antonio Brown has been so far. He has just 20 catches for 168 yards and no touchdowns, including a two-catch, eleven-yard performance last week against the Chiefs. Whether it's due to poor scheme fit or Brown simply not playing to the form we are used to seeing, his production is nowhere near what it was with the Steelers. As a former "AB Superfan", it's frustrating to watch what is now the shell of a player who could have gone down as one of the greatest Steelers of all-time. The Antonio Brown of old is all but gone, and what is left is a locker room cancer who can barely even produce on the field. Given that the Steelers are the only unbeaten team left in the league and sit atop the AFC standings, you tell me who came out of the situation looking better.
Le'Veon Bell, on the other hand, didn't leave the Steelers on quite as bad of a note, and therefore his downfall garners a bit more sympathy. Drafted out of Michigan State in the second-round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Bell exploded onto the scene in Pittsburgh, recording over 1200 yards from scrimmage in his first season. During his five years with the team, he averaged over 1000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards per season despite missing numerous games due to injury or suspension. In addition, he compiled three Pro-Bowl selections and was a first team All-Pro in both 2014 and 2017. Still, the Steelers were nervous to give their bell-cow running back a long-term deal and instead franchise tagged him for the second time following the 2017 season. Bell was unhappy with this decision and sat out all of the 2018 season, despite rumors that he had promised the team he would return by week 8.
After narrowly missing the playoffs, the Steelers locker room was none too happy with Le'Veon. The broken relationship between Bell and his former teammates could not be mended, leading the disgruntled running back to leave town and sign a four-year, $52 million deal with the New York Jets. In his first year with his new team his totals declined significantly from his time in Pittsburgh. Bell dearly missed the Steelers offensive line and superior passing game, averaging a pitiful 3.2 yards per attempt. His struggles continued into the 2020 season before he was released following the Jets fifth loss of the season.
Bell spoke to a number of suiters in free agency before ultimately signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. Again, radio hosts, TV personalities, and NFL analysts believed the Bell signing would make the Chiefs untouchable. But, similar to Brown, the former Steeler running back has had a very minimal impact on the Chiefs. Through five games he has rushed for just 101 yards and one touchdown. His yards per attempt has improved to 3.7 but he still is nowhere near touching the performance level at which he was playing in the 'Burgh. Still, there are worse situations than joining a 10-1 Kansas City team that is the unanimous favorite to win the Super Bowl. If they can pull off the repeat and Bell finally gets a ring, one could argue that leaving Pittsburgh was the right move, but otherwise, it seems like his greed and desire for a massive pay-day derailed what might've been a hall of fame career.
This past week has been emblematic of everything that has transpired since Bell and Brown left Pittsburgh. In a face-off against each other, the former Steelers superstars both put up disappointing numbers. Meanwhile, the Steelers advanced to 11-0 for the first time in franchise history despite offensive struggles. Given their impressive defensive prowess, one can only imagine what this Steelers team would look like if they still had all three "Killer B's". But then again, maybe the drama and toxicity that accompanied each of these players would've hurt Pittsburgh's Super Bowl chances. We will never know for sure, but what is clear is that two hall-of-fame caliber players let their legacies slip out of their very hands the moment they left Pittsburgh.