By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Seemingly everyone in the sports world spent the past eight months poking holes in the Patriots dynasty, salivating at each new juicy nugget that peeled back the curtain on the drama that was unfolding with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, and Rob Gronkowski.
But through two weeks of the season, it appears as though everyone’s attention may have been diverted from the real crisis that’s taking place within an AFC organization that was expected to contend for a Super Bowl.
That team would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are off to a bit of a rocky start in 2018. They opened the year by tying the Cleveland Browns, a team that entered that game having lost 49 of its previous 53 games. Those issues were doubled this past Sunday, when Patrick Mahomes lit up their defense with six touchdown passes in a 42-37 Chiefs victory.
That loss and that tie came after an offseason where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called out the organization for drafting a quarterback in the third round. That was an offseason that began early thanks to the Steelers allowing the Jaguars to score 45 points in Pittsburgh, and it included the kicking to the curb of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. (And it was only a year removed from Antonio Brown’s locker room live video and Roethlisbeger’s retirement contemplations.)
Just before the year began, teammates starting ripping superstar running back Le’Veon Bell for his holdout. And now two weeks into the season, things appear to have gotten a bit more hectic for the Steelers.
Bell remains away from the team, refusing to play under his franchise tag and apparently willing to wait as long as he can before showing up for work this year. Despite the contract stresses, his own uncertain future, and the terrible start to the season for his teammates, one might believe Bell would be sweating. But fear not, he’s in the exact right spot to cool down if things get too hot:
We out here coolin’ it on the jet skis, man!
Looks like a fella who’s enjoying his life, unencumbered by anything involving the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Meanwhile the superstar offensive player who has been going to work, Antonio Brown, is having a little bit of a potential temper tantrum. He’s performed pretty well thus far — 18 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown is nothing to sneeze at — but apparently has been unhappy in the days following Sunday’s loss.
On Monday, after a former Steelers employee insulted his abilities, Brown decided to quote-tweet the comment by suggesting that he should be traded.
All righty, then.
But that’s just an angry tweet. Who among us can lay claim to having never sent out an angry tweet? It happens. It’s Twitter! It’s not real life. No big deal.
But, well, after firing off that tweet, we don’t know what Brown did. But we know what he didn’t do. He didn’t go to work.
As first reported by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Brown was a no-show at the Steelers’ facility on Monday. When Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spoke to the media later on Tuesday, he confirmed that Brown was indeed absent on Monday.
“He was not. No,” Tomlin said. “I’m looking forward to visiting with him today and discussing that and some other things. I’m not going to get into the details of why he wasn’t here or whether he was excused and all of those things. I just assume leave those things in house.”
Tomlin’s press conference was much more of a filibuster than an information session, as the Steelers’ coach/PR Chief spoke for almost 10 minutes about the loss to the Chiefs, the upcoming matchup with the Bucs, and team injuries. He then opened up the forum for question, and it didn’t take long for the Brown questions to roll in. He tried his best to downplay the topic, saying that tweets take place “in that gray atmosphere out there among people where there’s very little accountability and things of that nature.” (That’s actually a killer description of Twitter.)
“There’s been a couple of instances now where you’ve asked me about Antonio regarding some social media-like things. I’ll address that very directly with him. But I’ll leave that between he and I,” Tomlin said. “I’m not going to utilize this forum to address such things. I just don’t believe it’s appropriate. I think that this forum is a very professional one. We got a lot of football things to talk about, you know, performance, personnel, opportunities, challenges that the game of football presents. I always want to take that road when I’m standing in front of this podium representing this league. That’s just how I choose to approach it.”
Tomlin would not delve into details about whether Brown’s absence was excused, but he indicated that Brown would need to be spoken to, and mentioned that negativity from losing could lead to such an absence.
“I understand sometimes you got some negativity, you know, we lost a football game,” Tomlin said. “There were some negative exchanges on the sideline. That’s frustration associated with not playing well and not winning. I understand all that. There’s opportunity for us to respond to it, particularly in the early portions of the year, to utilize negative experiences and things that occur, to educate our team at this point in the journey so it becomes a non-factor as we move forward, that’s generally the approach that we take. And non-football-related things, such as social media decorum and et cetera, so hopefully that’ll be the last time I’ll be discussing things such as that in this setting.”
Based on the fact that just two weeks ago, Brown physically threatened a reporter on Twitter, it probably won’t be the last time Tomlin has to speak to Brown about social media.
Add it all up, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a big ol’ mess. Considered by most in the preseason to be neck-and-neck with the Patriots as top dogs in the AFC, they’ve slid down past Jacksonville, Kansas City, and maybe even Cincinnati. Only four other AFC teams are winless through two weeks, putting the Steelers in some dubious company.
The best offensive player is out there coolin’ it on the jet skis, the best receiver is skipping work in a huff, and the head coach is trying to piece it all together to prevent this season from slipping away entirely before the calendar page even turns to October.
And up next for Pittsburgh? It’s the red-hot Buccaneers. Quarterbacked by the NFL’s leading passer. On the road. On Monday Night Football.
Sounds like these problems won’t be clearing away any time soon.