Wide receiver Antonio Brown did not play in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ crucial regular-season finale against Cincinnati on Sunday because he missed multiple practices during the week, not because of a knee injury, according to a report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Brown, who was selected for his sixth straight and seventh overall Pro Bowl this season, got into a heated dispute with a teammate during a morning walk-through Wednesday and at one point angrily threw a football in the direction of that player, according to multiple media reports.
The Post-Gazette has identified the other player as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. ESPN reports that Roethlisberger “was involved in the incident” but it “wasn’t a head-to-head clash” between the two players.
According to ESPN, Brown left practice but talked to Roethlisberger later, “telling the quarterback that he felt underappreciated and had issues with people in the organization.”
During his weekly radio appearance on Pittsburgh’s KDKA-FM, Roethlisberger denied being part of any such incident involving Brown and said he was unaware of anything of that nature taking place.
“People are making a big deal about a walkthrough,” Roethlisberger said. “If there was a blowup I sure as heck didn’t see it. I’m not sure where that came from. I talked to A.B. Thursday morning. Everything was great and fine. I’m not sure where this blowup is coming from.”
Brown did not practice the rest of the week, according to multiple media reports, as the team prepared for a game it needed to win to have any shot at making the playoffs. Multiple members of the organization, including team President Art Rooney II, are said to have gotten no response after reaching out to Brown. Roethlisberger said Tuesday that Brown did not return his calls or texts after their Thursday conversation.
The Steelers listed Brown’s absence from Wednesday afternoon’s practice as a “coaches decision”; the official reason the following day was “coaches decision/knee.” Coach Mike Tomlin said Friday after practice that Brown was getting his knee tested because he “didn’t feel comfortable enough to” practice.
Brown, who led the league and set a team record with 15 touchdown catches this season, also skipped a team meeting on Saturday night but showed up at Heinz Field on Sunday expecting to play, according to the Post-Gazette. But the team decided to bench its superstar receiver because of the missed practices, the newspaper reports, and he left the stadium at halftime.
The Steelers offense struggled against the Bengals’ league-worst defense, but the team managed to pull out a 16-13 win. Its playoff hopes ended moments after the victory, though, when the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Cleveland Browns 26-24 to clinch the AFC North title.
Brown was not present for the team’s exit meetings the next day, according to multiple media sources. Tomlin is scheduled for a season-ending news conference on Wednesday.