The Steelers coach wouldn't directly say that the receiver bailed on teammates, but was clearly disturbed by the lack of communication with Brown in the days leading up to the Week 17 tilt and in the aftermath of Pittsburgh being eliminated from playoff contention.
"When we're talking about the darkest hour, we're talking about playing to win a game and needing other dominoes to fall for us to be in the tournament and the guy not communicating -- that is a real element of discussion, certainly," he said.
Tomlin was asked if Brown quit on his teammates.
"You can describe it in whatever ways you want to describe it," he responded. "There was a lack of communication there that can lead to thoughts and things in that nature that can go many directions. Bottom line is we're playing a significant game and he didn't do a good enough job of communicating or being available in the hours leading up to that performance, so we needed to make decisions pertinent to getting prepared to play in that performance. I've been really clear about outlining what transpired, the level of communication and things of that nature so obviously there's some things within that you can infer, certainly."
Tomlin attempted to clarify the timeline of Brown injury and being ruled out of Sunday's contest.
The coach said Brown complained about lower-body soreness last Wednesday, particularly his knee, but also foot and ankle issues. The veteran receiver was given the day off, which is not an unusual move for the team. On Friday, Brown still complained of pain in his knee. Tomlin sent Brown for an MRI, and directed him to go home after to stay off his sore knee -- the coach later added that Brown didn't get the MRI.
Tomlin said he could not get ahold of Brown on Friday night, and when the receiver didn't show up for a walkthrough on Saturday morning, the team decided to shut him down for the game. Brown's agent Drew Rosenhaus called Tomlin on Sunday morning to relay that A.B. could play, but Tomlin said that was not how decisions were made.
Tomlin said he spoke with Brown prior to the game and discussed the receiver being inactive. The coach added he heard Brown left the stadium at halftime but couldn't confirm because he wasn't sure.
Tomlin wouldn't get into specifics about how he plans to deal with Brown's situation, noting any discipline would be handled "in-house." The coach noted that because the Steelers did not make the playoffs there was less urgency to codify the situation.
"I haven't spoken to him since that meeting I had with him prior to the game at the stadium on Sunday," Tomlin said. "Obviously, I'm going to address it; we're going to address him and the circumstance. To be quite honest with you, we're going to information gather and use all the time at our disposal and wish to do so. I was hopeful that time would be more of an essence in terms of him and his circumstances. I was hopeful that we would be working this week but we're not so because we're not we're going to information gather and deal with it. And like we do in all circumstances, we're going to deal with it appropriately. We're going to deal with it in-house and I'm sure you'll hear about the intimate details. But because we're not playing a game this week, it hasn't been addressed to this point."
On Wednesday Tomlin spoke mostly in generalities, using the lack of urgency with no game upcoming, and the lack of communication with Brown, as reasons for not making concrete statements.
Tomlin noted that he's "not going to speculate on trades" and that Brown hasn't formally requested to be shipped out of Pittsburgh.
"Like I said last week, the circumstances being what they were and the amount of things that we were going through, it wasn't a lot of communication there. Obviously, we take his lack of communication, his lack of presence, particularly on Saturday prior to the game to be something that's very significant and will be handled appropriately so. I'm not going to speculate on trades and things of that nature. We haven't formally received a request in that regard, so I'm not going to speculate in terms of where the discipline might go and things of that nature. Just know that it is going to be addressed and will be addressed and needs to be addressed for obvious reasons."
When asked if there is a point where the distractions outweigh the talent, Tomlin responded: "certainly."
Whether the team has hit that stage with Brown, one of the best players in the NFL, remains to be seen.
With Steelers players questioning the club's chemistry and camaraderie in the aftermath of missing the playoffs, Tomlin took responsibility for some of the issues within the locker room.
"I foster and develop every aspect of our culture. That's leadership," he said.
Tomlin noted he expects changes within the organization in 2019, but wouldn't detail who or what those changes could be moving forward.
Given how the situation with Brown has deteriorated over the past year, Tomlin was asked if the circumstance with A.B. affects him personally.
"There is disappointment, there is no denying that," the coach said. "But on a personal level, man I've just learned over the course of time that forget my personal feelings about things or the challenges that come with the position. I don't spend a lot of time focusing on that. I better not. I better focus on issues and the people that I serve as a leader. The group and making sure we're positioning ourselves to be at our best. So, that's why I hesitate when you asked that because I don't know how to answer it because I don't spend a lot of time dwelling or focused on that."
With a full offseason to dwell on the situation, Wednesday wasn't the last time in 2019 that Tomlin will be asked about Brown's future in Pittsburgh.