Malcolm Butler had an awesome season. His 2015 campaign was better than we could have hoped for, given his place on the team last year and his jump from the 5th to the 1st cornerback. Sure, there were signs that Bill Belichick trusted him to make a leap, like letting Revis, Browner, Arrington, and Dennard go and having him sit out large chunks of preseason games with the rest of the surefire starters, but we didn’t expect this. Nobody foresaw him shutting down the 2nd or 3rd best receiver in the league (Odell Beckham Jr.) during the final 3.5 quarters of the game with 1-on-1 coverage.
You know what Butler’s only bad game was? Opening night vs. Pittsburgh. Matched up against Antonio Brown, the definitive best receiver in football, Butler gave up 9 receptions to Brown on 10 targets for 133 yards and a touchdown. Butler was no match for the best receiver in the game, but it’s not like anyone else is, either. Here is Brown’s incredible 2015 game log that added up to 136 receptions for 1834 yards and 10 TD.
Brown missed yesterday’s game against the Denver Broncos with a concussion that he suffered on an attempted decapitation from Vontaze Burfict. The loss of Brown might have actually been worth it for the Steelers, because the 15 yard flag (and then the subsequent one when Pacman Jones acted like 2006 Pacman Jones on the field) may have been the difference between the Steelers having enough yardage to kick a game winning field goal. By this past Sunday, though, Brown’s brain hadn’t recovered from violently shaking only 8 days before (When you think about how a concussion is the brain shaking inside someone’s skull and see those words in writing, doesn’t it make you cringe?), and he didn’t travel to Denver for the game.
Let me be honest. I’ve rooted for injuries before. If you’re as much of a diehard fan as I am, then you have, too. I won’t openly celebrate a player going down, because there is a level of outward respect that you have to show to a guy who makes a living entertaining you at the risk of injuries. But I’ve rooted for injuries, and I’ve especially rooted for players to not recover from injuries in time to face one of my teams. I was thrilled that DeMarcus Ware couldn’t suit up against the Pats in their late November game, and I still look to the heavens and thank Bill Belichick (God) for the fact that Jeremy Lane suffered an injury in Super Bowl 49 and the Seahawks had to put Tharold Simon into the game as a replacement. Tom Brady lit up Simon like a Christmas tree, and the Lane injury — on his interception, no less — was the most underrated reason why the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
There are two boundaries that I try not to cross when rooting for injuries, though. The first is a serious, life-altering or career-damaging injury. I don’t root for ACL tears or chronic back problems, because a man shouldn’t lose his livelihood at any point. I’ll root for broken fingers and pulled hamstrings and even “fatigued groins” all day long, but I try not to root for something that could seriously affect a grown man’s ability to play the game that he’s worked all his life to play.
The second boundary is concussions, and I shouldn’t have to tell you why. Good thing the NFL started caring about them in 2010.
Here’s the thing, though. If the Steelers had upset the Broncos on Sunday, it would have been a major advantage for Belichick & Co. if Antonio Brown wasn’t playing. Think about this: The Steelers would have just gone into Mile High, one of the toughest stadiums in the league to play in, and beaten the best defensive team in the league without their top wide receiver, without their top 2 running backs, and with a quarterback whose shoulder is hanging together by dental floss. If Brown (and maybe running back DeAngelo Williams) returned for the Conference Championship in Foxboro, wouldn’t that be terrifying?
But maybe Antonio Brown wouldn’t have recovered from his concussion. Such a situation would have been a tremendous advantage for the Pats, because they could have put Butler and Logan Ryan on Matravius Bryant and Markus Wheaton instead of letting one of those guys go to Justin Coleman, who is a huge dropoff from Ryan. Would you have been rooting for Brown to miss the game? Truthfully, I probably would have. I would have rationalized it by saying something ridiculous like “Well, I want his concussion to no longer plague him starting Sunday morning, right after he’s already been declared out for the game and wouldn’t have made the trip to Foxboro.” But the point still stands that I would have been rooting for a player to have a more significant concussion than was originally hoped.
If you’re a diehard Patriots fan and you feel differently, then I respect you for not feeling the same way that I do. If you’re unsure how you would have felt, then be grateful that you didn’t have to ponder a serious moral dilemma in your head. And as much as that quandary would have been a problem in your head, at least your dome is doing better than Antonio Brown’s right now.