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Antonio Brown cares about stats, but that’s not a bad thing

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Of course wide receivers want targets. It’s why they play the game.

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Star wide receivers like Antonio Brown want opportunities to get in the end zone for their team. That isn’t surprising, and it’s understandable.

In the second quarter of the Pittsburgh SteelersAFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots, DeAngelo Williams scored a rushing touchdown. According to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, wide receiver Antonio Brown “pouted” after the play.

Kinkhabwala said that head coach Mike Tomlin had to sit down with Brown last season and tell him to stop chasing stats.

“The only thing that should matter to you right now is Lombardi Trophies,” Tomlin told Brown, according to Kinkhabwala.

The play in question, according to Kinkhabwala, was Pittsburgh’s first score of the day. Ben Roethlisberger handed the ball off to Williams, who barreled 5 yards for a touchdown.

Kinkhabwala was sitting next to former Steelers receiver Hines Ward in the press box, and she said that Brown had been open in the back of the end zone and that he pouted when he wasn’t the focus of the touchdown play.

The only things that are clear from the clip of the play are that it’s a designed rushing play, and Brown signals the touchdown after Williams crosses the goal line. Kinkhabwala said Roethlisberger had to speak with Brown after the play.

The assumption here is clearly that Roethlisberger had to divert his attention from the game to remind Brown that it’s about the team, and not just about one player who wants to score touchdowns.

Mike Tomlin said Monday that he was unaware of any “moping” from Brown, but that he would speak with the wide receiver about his responsibilities and expectations moving forward. Tomlin does this with each player at the conclusion of the season, so Brown is not being singled out by his coach.

“We all need to get better in all areas,” said Tomlin, via Teresa Varley of the Steelers’ official website. “I am going to continue to challenge him in the way I have challenged him over the course of his career to continue to find new ways to be an impact player for us. To continue to grow within the role that is his role on this team.

“He is a dynamic player. The responsibilities that come with being a dynamic player, I am going to ask him to continue to grow in those areas.

Brown had 77 receiving yards and no touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s 36-17 loss to New England. He was the Steelers’ leading receiver throughout the regular season, with 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns, which ranked him fifth in the league for total yards.

He’s a playmaker, and he’s an asset to Pittsburgh’s offense. Against New England, with a trip to Super Bowl LI on the line and against a tough defense, the fact that Brown wanted to make catches and score points for the Steelers just seems practical. Offensive skill players want opportunities to make a positive impact for their teams. That’s not shocking, nor is it problematic.

Brown has also been one of the more entertaining players on the field all season. His touchdown celebrations are legendary, even if they’ve earned him thousands of dollars of fines from the NFL.

But Brown’s colorful personality isn’t the reason the Steelers lost to the Patriots. That Facebook Live video he streamed from the locker room after Pittsburgh’s Divisional win over the Chiefs isn’t, either. And Brown’s desire to score touchdowns to help his team try to get a win over New England didn’t cost Pittsburgh the game.

Le’Veon Bell went down with a groin injury early in the game, which was a blow to the offense. The Steelers were stagnant in the red zone, failing to punch the ball in for touchdowns on two of three attempts. The Patriots wisely stuck Brown in double coverage for most of the day to limit his impact, and the defense gave up 36 points.

Brown knows he always has the opportunity to create game-changing plays for his team, and he will continue to want the ball. Maybe being a hot target in fantasy football is an ego boost for Brown. Nobody should be surprised by that, and frankly, nobody should be particularly concerned about it.