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Martavis Bryant suspension tames Steelers’ lofty 2016 expectations

Thank you, Martavis Bryant.

Not for getting suspended for a year, but rather for giving Steelers fans six months to get used to the possibility that the Steelers might not be as great as everyone thinks they’ll be.

Bryant chose not to appeal his impending one-year suspension, and it became official on Monday, according to Pro Football Talk.

After being suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season, the next step was supposed to be a 10-game suspension. To be suspended for a full year, Bryant either had to fail two more drug tests or not show up for them.

Perhaps Bryant smoked marijuana again and that’s why he ducked the tests. Perhaps he’s just not taking his football career seriously enough to show up for the tests. Perhaps he’s fighting depression, as his agent Brian Fettner says via ESPN.com.

If Bryant did light up, then the marijuana is medicinal for Steelers fans. It’s a disappointment booster shot so that the heartbreak won’t be so debilitating if the Steelers offense isn’t potent enough to carry them to a championship in 2016.

In the wake of the Steelers’ agonizing playoff defeat in Denver, they were anointed as serious Super Bowl contenders for 2016. After all, had Fitzgerald Toussaint not fumbled, they probably would have won a divisional playoff game without Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and the full services of Ben Roethlisberger’s throwing shoulder.

With everybody back healthy next season, the Steelers offense was going to be unstoppable. It was going to score so many points that the scoreboard at Heinz Field and any stadium the Steelers visited would look like a pinball machine.

But Steelers fans old enough to know were uncomfortable with such a rosy outlook.

The Steelers tend to win championships only when there are heavier favorites in front of them. That certainly was the case in 2005, when they became the first No. 6 seed to win a Super Bowl. In 2008, the Patriots were coming off a 16-0 regular season and seemed like a lock to at least get to the AFC title game before Tom Brady’s knee was injured in Week 1.

When the Steelers enter seasons with a ton of fanfare, on the other hand, they tend to fall on their face. They defended their Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII titles (missing the playoffs in both 2006 and 2009) about as well as they defended the pass in 2015.

And so it seemed inevitable that some unforeseen calamity would derail the Steelers’ Super Bowl LI express.

Wherever that train ends up, Bryant won’t be on board, and losing him is a major blow to the Steelers’ offense.

Without Bryant’s game-changing talent, the Steelers still would be searching for their first playoff win since 2010. Not only did he make one of the best catches in franchise history to score the Steelers’ only touchdown in their 18-16 wild-card win at Cincinnati, he also ran 44 yards on an end around to help set up a field goal.

It was Bryant who caught his first NFL pass for a 35-yard touchdown to pull the Steelers to within 13-10 in a 2014 Monday-night game against the Houston Texans at Heinz Field.

The Steelers were 3-3 at the time and had gone 21-21, including their playoff loss at Denver, in their previous 42 games going back to 2011. That touchdown sparked a 21-point flurry in the final minute and a half of the second quarter and the Steelers went on to win 30-23. Bryant’s touchdown was the first of five in the next three games, all of which the Steelers won to improve to 6-3. They finished the season 11-5 and ended a three-year playoff drought.

It’s not a coincidence that Bryant’s debut came at the same time as the Steelers’ transition from a .500 rut to two straight playoff seasons.

Of Antonio Brown’s 129 receptions in 2014, 88 came in the 10 games Bryant played. That’s a 141-catch pace.

Unless the Steelers can find a legitimate No. 2 receiver, Brown better get used to being double-teamed.

It’s not impossible that someone fills the void.

Markus Wheaton caught 53 passes in 2014 and 44 last season and the Steelers could get a nice contract-year bump out of him.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, who the Steelers just re-signed for three years, is a Ben Roethlisberger favorite.

Sammie Coates caught just one pass during his rookie season but offered a glimpse of what could lie ahead by catching two passes for 61 yards in the playoff game at Denver.

There’s always the draft. The Steelers have taken a receiver in the fourth round or earlier in six of the last eight drafts.

A Mike Wallace reunion at a bargain-basement price would be a nice little story. But he’ll be 30 next season and the one-trick pony’s only trick, his speed, could be deserting him.

Le’Veon Bell can catch passes. He caught 83 in 2014. But is anyone willing to put their money on him staying healthy for 16 games and playoffs?

For that matter, we saw last season that Roethlisberger’s body can’t take the beating that it used to.

Injuries to Bell or Roethlisberger are among the many things that could possibly go wrong on the field for the 2016 Steelers.

On Monday, something went wrong off the field.

It remains to be seen whether these suspensions have taught Bryant any lessons.

The lesson for Steelers fans is that it’s way too early to book hotel rooms in Houston for the first week of February.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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1 comment

  1. Robert

    The loss of Bryant won’t hurt our chances of winning the SB as long as Ben, Brown & Bell can make it through the season.

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