Mike Tomlin: Patriots and Steelers move on without AB, Gronk

Andy Hart
September 04, 2019 - 12:55 pm
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Though there is no question that the Sunday night opener between the Patriots and Steelers will offer plenty of NFL star power at Gillette Stadium, the matchup of two of the AFC’s top franchises will also be missing a couple future Hall of Fame talents as well.

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This offseason obviously saw Rob Gronkowski retire as the centerpiece of the New England passing attack. Similarly, Pittsburgh traded playmaking wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Raiders, deciding that his elite talents were no longer worth the trouble.

Certainly teams change on an annual basis in the NFL, but in the short time since these teams last met last December two on-field focal points and off-field characters have been removed from the mix.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin had a pretty low-key, been-there-done-that response during his Wednesday conference call with the New England media when asked to describe the process of moving on from such big-time characters and performers like AB or Gronk.

“I have the perspective that I’ve been in this job a long time as those guys up there have,” Tomlin said of the two teams moving on. “So they have the perspective that dynamic playmakers are going to come and go and others are going to rise and assume the roles. We felt similarly when Hines Ward retired or we lost Mike Wallace in free agency and so forth just at the wide receiver position for example. When Santonio Holmes went to the Jets. So those occur over the course of, over time, and thankfully I’ve been here long enough and we’ve had the type of continuity that we can have that perspective and know guys are going to rise and assume roles and plays are going to be made. I’m sure organizationally New England feels the same way.”

Of course it might be a little easier for Tomlin to talk about moving on from Brown – a four-time All-Pro who has topped 100 catches in each of the last six seasons – when he has the likes of budding star JuJu Smith-Schuster to turn to. The third-year receiver led the NFL with 1,426 receiving yards a year ago.

With Gronkowski retired for the time being – and Benjamin Watson and Lance Kendricks suspended by the NFL to open the season – New England’s tight end depth chart to open the year includes Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo.

Related: At this point, injured reserve might be best thing that could have happened to Patriots WR N’Keal Harry