Sunday’s AFC Championship game will mark the third time the Steelers and the Patriots will battle for the right to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, and the first time they have played for that right in Foxboro. In all three instances the Steelers have entered the game having the better overall team. Pittsburgh comes into this game on a 9 game winning streak, with a defense that has evolved into one of the league’s best over the same period of time. With such a marquee matchup, the talk surrounding the game should seemingly be centered around the historic run the Steelers defense has been on this postseason, or about LeVeon Bell’s NFL record of 337 yards over his first two postseason games, or what the Patriots need to do to stop Pittsburgh’s Killer B’s. Instead, the talk so far has been about Antonio Brown’s live Facebook video, that just happened to catch Mike Tomlin’s colorful statements regarding his feelings towards the Patriots, and the Patriots reactions to it.
In reality, if Brown’s Facebook Live feed hadn’t occurred during Tomlin’s post game speech, capturing Tomlin’s personal feelings about the Patriots, Antonio Brown’s live Facebook appearance never would’ve been an issue, but it did, and it is. The fact is that Mike Tomlin expressed what many other players and coaches most likely feel, and the great thing about it is, he apologized only for the colorful language that accompanied his sentiments. This situation reminds me of two instances in the past, during which the Steelers were in the midst of a Super Bowl run, when controversial statements by a member of the Steelers actually galvanized the team and factored into getting that 5th Lombardi Trophy. In Both cases, Joey Porter said publically what everyone thought privately, that both the Colts and Seahawks tight end Jeremy Stevens were soft.
Essentially what Joey did was to take all the focus and pressure off of his teammates, putting it squarely on himself. While Porter faced all the questions and scrutiny from his statements, his teammates were more able to focus on taking care of business. Porter was built to fill that role, and he more than happily took it on. Make no mistake about it, nobody is saying that there is a Joey Porter-like strategy at play here, but there is potential for this situation to play out in a similar fashion, which could actually work out in the Steelers favor. Case in point, the first two questions asked of Mike Tomlin at today’s NFL Network’s Championship Wednesday press conferences, were by NFL Network reporters that were specifically about Antonio Brown’s video and his conversation with him. When Tomlin refused to take the bait, NFL Network cut away from his press conference, in the middle of a question about LaDarius Green, and went to Julius Peppers’ press conference. Tomlin’s was the only press conference that they cut short and cut away from.
Mike Tomlin is loved and respected by his players, and when he has been criticized by the likes of Terry Bradshaw and others, they have fiercely rallied around him. When Tomlin responded to Bradshaw the way he did, it inspired them. Now there is this distraction over Tomlin’s Patriots speech which was caught on the Antonio Brown video. Mike Tomlin has now been criticized by numerous members of the media, Bill Belichick and now Julian Edelman for his speech, and for having an undisciplined locker room. Already his players are rallying to his defense. Much like how they responded to the manner in which he responded to Terry Bradshaw, don’t think for a second they didn’t notice when the only thing Tomlin apologized for over his Patriots speech, was the language. The Steelers are more than talented enough to knock off the New England Patriots.
When you saw the intensity with which the Steelers treated the Dolphins in the aftermath of Bradshaw’s insults, it’s not hard to imagine them invading Foxboro with a much higher degree of intensity, especially given the history these teams have. Let the questions linger about weather or not Brown’s video and Tomlin’s speech will be a distraction or not. Let the critics keep spewing their biased criticisms, and let the Patriots keep taking shots at Mike Tomlin for “running an undisciplined locker room”, for they do it at their own peril. The Steelers are already on a mission to win it all, and have New England squarely in their crosshairs for that reason alone. Going after their head coach for what he said on Brown’s post video just might be the added “distraction”…er, motivation this team needs.