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Mike Tomlin respect for Antonio Brown helps explain controversial decision

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s news conferences are generally an exercise in banality by design. So the effusive praise he lavished on Antonio Brown when asked why the best wide receiver in the NFL this season has been unstoppable stood out.

The comparison to J.J. Watt really stood out.

It also provided some insight into a decision Tomlin made three weeks ago in Jacksonville.

The Steelers were leading the Jaguars 17-9 with two minutes left in the game and Jacksonville was out of timeouts. During the two-minute warning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger successfully lobbied Tomlin to throw one more pass even though Big Ben only needed to take three knees to end the game.

Roethlisberger wanted to get Brown another catch so the latter could extend an obscure NFL record for consecutive games with at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards. He accomplished that by throwing a swing pass to Brown that netted 16 yards and the Steelers then ran out the clock.

The decision, however, ignited such an outcry in Pittsburgh that you would have thought Mayor Bill Peduto had been videotaped wearing a Baltimore Ravens jersey at City Hall.

Local radio airwaves sizzled with outrage and indignation the day after the Steelers’ narrow win in Jacksonville. Derision was heaped on Tomlin for taking an unnecessary risk and for putting one player ahead of the team. Derision was heaped on the record itself given its lack of significance.

The sacrosanct “Steelers Way” was even questioned as far as whether Tomlin had started the erosion of it in Jacksonville.

Hate the decision to throw a pass with the game already won or not, three weeks later we know why Tomlin agreed to it.

Roethlisberger wanted it for Brown. So did his other offensive teammates who see how hard he works and have already twice voted Brown the Steelers’ season MVP.

If it was important to them and to Brown it was important to Tomlin.

That is how much he respects and appreciates his star wide receiver.