Steelers' Bryant agrees with Roethlisberger's challenge to 'step up'
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday issued a public challenge to embattled wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
On Wednesday, Bryant fired back.
“I'm glad he did it,” Bryant said.
“I accept it,” he said.
Roethlisberger said during his weekly appearance on KDKA-FM leading up to the Steelers wild-card game against the Bengals on Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium that Bryant had to “toughen up,” especially during this time of the season.
After 48 catches for 759 yards and seven touchdowns in his first nine games, Bryant had back-to-back uninspired games where he caught two passes for 6 yards.
It was the second straight week Roethlisberger said publicly that Bryant needed to play better. After the Ravens' game, Roethlisberger suggested Bryant needed to catch a key third-down pass during the final drive of the game.
Then, leading up to the regular-season finale against the Browns in a must-win game, Bryant missed the early portions of practice last week because of an illness.
Bryant left early in the Browns game after what later was called a neck injury he suffered while trying to make a tackle following a pass thrown in his direction that was intercepted.
Roethlisberger stood by his method of motivation Wednesday.
“I just wanted him to know that we needed him to step up,” Roethlisberger said. “It was nothing more than a challenge. I love that guy like a little brother.”
That's the way Bryant took it as well.
Roethlisberger and Bryant talked Tuesday. Neither would divulge the topic of conversation, but Bryant took the message to heart.
“He is the leader of the team, and if he feels like you need to step up your game, it is his job to call you out. I am glad he did it. It woke me up,” said Bryant, who posted a picture of himself on social media with a shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Make it Happen or Watch it Happen.”
Bryant has had his ups and downs since being a fourth-round pick in 2014.
He didn't get on the field much early during his rookie season. He was inactive for the first six games before exploding onto the scene by scoring six touchdowns in his first four games.
Bryant ran into trouble in the offseason.
He was suspended for four games to start this season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Under the new CBA, a suspension suggests that there were four failed drug tests in a 16-month span since Bryant came into the league two years ago.
Bryant returned against the Cardinals and scored two touchdowns in the Steelers' upset victory. Since then, Bryant's production has been sporadic, leading to Roethlisberger's challenge.
“Anytime Ben tries to hold you accountable, that's a great thing,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “He challenges us all and the way we go about our business, the way we come to work, the way we prepare. Anytime you get challenged by your quarterback, you need to respond.”
Roethlisberger has been criticized for his lack of leadership.
On Wednesday, his teammates stopped short of praising him for stepping up and being a leader.
“We are all trying to win here,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “If a guy isn't doing what he's supposed to be doing then we have problems. He's our leader. He's been there. He's won two Super Bowls. You really have to buckle down and listen to a guy like that.”
Linebacker Arthur Moats said: “Anytime it is coming from ‘7,' you understand that the only reason why he is saying it is because it is in your best interest, and he understands that type of player Martavis is and understands what he is capable of doing.”
There's no denying the Steelers need Bryant. The Steelers are 15-6 with him in the lineup and average 70 more yards passing than without him.
“If you are in Martavis' position, he is the one who is going to make you a star or not make you a star,” guard Ramon Foster said. “If he is smart, he will hone into what we are asking him.
“With Ben saying it, you have to listen.”
And Bryant appears to be doing just that.
“It shows that he cares and he loves me like a brother,” Bryant said. “He wants to see me be great.”