The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Chase Claypool led all players on both sidelines in receptions (8) and receiving yards (93) in Thursday night’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. You wouldn’t necessarily know it by the way that the game unfolded, however.
It started with him getting benched by the end of Pittsburgh’s first drive. By then, he had already been flagged for unnecessary roughness, very nearly lost a fumble but was saved by his shin touching the ground first, and missed an obvious block that blew a run play.
Most of what came in between was what you would want to see out of him, but he would not escape the night without further embarrassment. After securing a fourth-down conversion on the final drive of the game, Claypool took the time to celebrate and signal a first down while the clock was ticking below 30 seconds, and the Steelers had no timeouts.
His more veteran teammates took note, with Trai Turner taking charge and going up to him to try to grab the ball away and get it set for the next play. Head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged after the game that he benched Claypool. When asked if he’d received the message, he said, “we’ll see”.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked after the game whether or not he had a discussion with Claypool, particularly about the first-down celebration in the two-minute drill as time was expiring and the team was down eight points.
“It’s not really my job. That goes up to Coach Tomlin”, he told reporters. “That’s what he needs to do. That’s his job as the head coach. As the quarterback, it’s my job to help manage what we do on the field and get first downs and try to score. Dealing with player issues and whatever else you want to say, that’s the coach’s job, not mine”.
First and foremost, it is of course Tomlin’s job. He is the head coach, the leader of the team, and it’s his responsibility to take charge of the conduct of his players. And Claypool’s teammates clearly had a problem with what he did. He then proceeded to shout at Turner after the fact, and in his postgame comments seemed to deflect blaming his celebration for taking time off the clock.
Maturity concerns were already following Claypool as a rookie last year. It certainly hasn’t gotten any better in his second season, and neither he nor the team is having the sort of success on the field that would help bury those types of discussions.