Mike Tomlin opened his weekly press conference by addressing "the elephant in the room," the live internet broadcast of his post-game locker room talk by the self-absorbed Antonio Brown.
Tomlin delivered a scathing rebuke of Brown, but I’ve only picked out the key comments, as well as the ensuing newsy Steelers items from the rest of the press conference, and added my commentary:
* "The language, specifically, in terms of the content, is regrettable. … So I apologize for the content of the video from that perspective. As a parent, as a member of the community, I take that very seriously. I sincerely issue an apology in that regard."
My take: Tomlin always cares about "you kids out there." He's a good father and man.
* "We will punish him. We won’t punish us. We will do so swiftly, and we will do so internally."
My take: They’ll fine him but won't take away any playing time, because, well, he's good. The team needs him.
* "It’s a global thing in regards to professional sports. I think that’s why oftentimes you see great players move around from team-to-team. And I definitely don’t want that to be his story."
My take: This was the bombshell. The team won't extend Brown’s contract - which has one year remaining and is up for serious talks this summer - unless he grows up.
* "I haven’t wasted a lot of time with it. I haven’t visited with him, because on Monday and Tuesday I prepare for games. I will see him at some point, and when I do, I will address it."
My take: A relief to team leaders who now won't have to speak to Brown about this. They can move on with their preparation, and we can move on with the rest of the press conference.
* "I have a lot of respect for Kansas City and their environment. It was really challenging. I think when you have an opportunity to come out of the game on the other side of that, you really grow from it."
My take: Iron sharpens iron. The Steelers have now won nine consecutive games, five consecutive road games, four extremely tight games in the last five weeks, and two playoff games. They have been toughened whether they know it or not.
* “James Harrison has a shoulder and a triceps injury that is going to limit him, particularly during the early portions of the week."
My take: This is the only new injury, and you figure that since Harrison went straight from the airport to the weight room that he's OK. Unless he hurt himself in the weight room.
* “Ladarius Green is still in the protocol. We will watch and monitor his progress."
My take: The Steelers need a second red-zone threat in the worst way. Green has missed the last four games with a concussion.
* "We realize that there are only four of us (teams) left working. I think you can feel that in preparation. I think it provides good and positive energy for us. You hear it in the communication, formally and informally, player-to-coach, coach-to-player and player-to-player. I am just excited about continuing the work."
My take: He answered the same way later when asked whether a succession of tight, must-win performances might bankrupt the team emotionally. Obviously, Tomlin doesn't think it will.
* "The reason we failed to score was multiple things. Lack of execution and taking advantage of opportunity at times by us, and really, quality play by them."
My take: I can't help but worry their red-zone woes are the result of lacking a top-notch red-zone receiving threat. Brown’s caught 14 touchdown passes this season, and only four have been from inside the 20-yard line. He's only had two in the last 10 games, and both of those were late go-ahead touchdowns –, the "Immaculate Extension" against Baltimore and the fake spike against Dallas. The Steelers finished 14th in red-zone offense this season, behind the three remaining playoff teams, and have scored only two touchdowns in seven opportunities in these playoffs.
* "I’m going to proceed with the assumption that’s the case."
My take: That was Tomlin's answer as to whether he expects the communication system (coaches’ headsets) at Gillette Stadium to work properly. But I'm going to proceed with the assumption that it won't be the case.
* "Obviously there’s an adjustment associated with less Gronk, but you’re seeing a fluid adjustment from those guys. You’re seeing more three-WR personnel groups on first and second down. You’re seeing more fullback personnel groups with (James) Devlin, who has been there and is a quality player, on first and second down."
My take: So they're a normal team now without Rob Gronkowski, shuttling normal human beings in and out and looking for an edge.
* "I think this time of year the battle is man versus himself. The nameless, gray faces we happen to be playing this week are the New England Patriots. But we better be prepared, we better put together a good plan, we better execute that plan in great detail, and that’s what’s going to determine our performance and thus our fate."
My take: Tomlin, like Bill Belichick, truly believes a game isn't about stopping the other team as much as it's about playing your game as well as you can. The players are buying in.
* "Oh man. Professional respect. Competitive animosity. They haven’t had to go through us, either, since I’ve been here, so stay tuned."
My take: When asked what he thought of the Patriots, Tomlin didn’t walk back his Facebook Live commentary. He even added a dash of bravado.