PITTSBURGH — There’s a picture next to Antonio Brown’s locker featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sharing a laugh. The photo includes a note from Roethlisberger saying “AB, we are unstoppable.”
Turns out, there might be one thing that slows down one of the most prolific duos in the NFL: the increasingly viral dustups provided by Brown’s antics.
The latest came last Sunday, when Brown took his frustrations out on a water cooler after Roethlisberger failed to see Brown running wide open early in a 26-9 victory over Baltimore. Roethlisberger later likened Brown’s outburst to a “temper tantrum,” one that forced Brown’s teammates to spend a considerable portion of the week not talking about Pittsburgh’s 3-1 start but Brown’s occasionally diva-like behavior.
Brown knows it needs to stop. Soon.
“It can take away the morale of the group,” Brown said Friday. “It can take away the morale of myself. Obviously I don’t want (Ben) thinking I’m spazzing out because he does a great job of me getting me the ball and giving me the best chances to make plays. Just got to control my emotions … and understand I’ve got an effect on every guy here.”
Roethlisberger initially laughed off Brown’s mini-meltdown but then went public during his weekly radio shows, chastising the 28-year-old Brown for setting a poor example for the rest of the roster.
“I never want to make the quarterback feel like I’m being a distraction or I’ve got any negativity toward him,” said Brown, who is currently second in the NFL in both receptions and yards receiving heading into Sunday’s game against Jacksonville. “He’s the guy who gave me the opportunity. He’s the guy who’s been in my corner since I got here.”
Brown’s emergence as one of the most prolific receivers of his generation — he’s the only player in league history with four consecutive seasons with at least 100 receptions and signed an extension in March that made him the highest-paid wideout in the league — has moved in lock step with his profile, one that has put him under a microscope. He drew a strong rebuke from head coach Mike Tomlin in January for livestreaming from the locker room following a playoff win in Kansas City. He repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the six-year deal he signed in 2012 well before it expired even though the Steelers have a long-standing policy of not entering into negotiations until the penultimate season of a player’s current contract.
“Obviously, I know the position I’m in,” Brown said. “I’ve got to take responsibility and be a representative not only for the Steelers, but myself, my family. I’ve got to be smart.”
Roethlisberger hinted Brown’s behavior had an effect on Brown’s production over the course of the game. Brown was held to season lows in both receptions (four) and yards (34) even as Pittsburgh posted its most lopsided victory in Baltimore since the Ravens relocated from Cleveland more than two decades ago. Brown thinks Roethlisberger may have a point.
“Over the course of the game, you can’t let negativity get in your head,” Brown said. “Any time a guy playing negative upon emotion, it’s not going to be a great day. I learned that over the course of playing and Ben usually always put me back in place.”
Brown added he had no issue with Roethlisberger calling him out in the media, likening it to something a general might do.
“I think he knows I’m a competitive person,” Brown said. “I just didn’t want him to feel disrespect or anything toward him. It’s just me being passionate and wanting to play at a high level.”
NOTES: RT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) will likely miss a third straight start. Gilbert practiced on Wednesday, but sat out on Thursday and Friday. Chris Hubbard will go if Gilbert can’t play. … Pittsburgh’s second-ranked defense could have its projected starting 11 on the field at the same time for the first time all year. Safety Mike Mitchell, who was held out against Baltimore with a hamstring issue, is expected to play.