Will T-shirt stunt be Johnson's last act in Buffalo?
Steve Johnson's future in Buffalo has been a
scorching hot issue for much of the season because the impending
unrestricted free agent did not get an in-season contract extension. He
has reportedly turned down offers from the Bills, and there have been
reports that his representatives are seeking a deal that will pay him
about $7.5 million per season.
Maybe the Bills would have gone for that
previously, but after Johnson's latest episode, the Bills may opt to
just move on without the talented but immature wideout.
Coach Chan Gailey benched Johnson for the final 3
1/2 quarters Sunday in Buffalo's 49-21 loss at New England after
Johnson was penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration following a
first-quarter touchdown. The score gave the Bills a 14-0 lead, but
while in the end zone, Johnson lifted his uniform top to reveal a
T-shirt that had a Happy New Year message. Yes, it was harmless, but
the NFL frowns on such demonstrations, and the officials decided to
Maybe it wouldn't have been a big deal if Johnson
were a first-time offender, but he's not.
"At the end of the day, what I did hurt my
teammates, and I have to take that, and I will," Johnson said.
Bills fans, as well as his teammates and coaches,
have heard that from him before.
Back on Nov. 27, Johnson made big news in New York
when he performed an over-the-top touchdown celebration against the
Jets. He mocked Plaxico Burress by pretending to shoot himself in the
leg, and then mimicked a crashing jet in the end zone, drawing a
New York took advantage of the field position
after the kickoff and marched to a momentum-swinging touchdown in what
became a 28-24 victory. After that game, Johnson vowed never to
celebrate to a point that was detrimental to his team, but his promise
lasted just a month.
Also after the Jets game, Gailey told his team
anyone incurring a celebration penalty would be benched for the rest of
the game. Johnson knew that, and he tried to defend his actions by
saying, "I didn't know it was going to be a penalty." That's because
last year in Cincinnati, his "Why So Serious" T-shirt that poked fun at
the Bengals' Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco did not draw a flag, just
a league fine.
"If I say that, then I am going to do it, so he
was out," said a perturbed Gailey in explaining his decision to bench
Johnson. "I got tired of it the first time it happened (in Cincinnati).
But you hope people learn from situations. You know, there isn't
anybody who hasn't made mistakes, but you've got to learn from your
mistakes. And everybody falls in that category, me, too. And I have
said this a hundred times: He is not a bad guy, he's not. He's a good
guy, but he uses some bad judgment at times, and if you do that enough
and it hurts the team, you've got to do something."
Johnson said he never thought about the Jets
incident and that he wasn't embarrassed by what happened, only that he
was sorry that he let down his teammates.
On Monday, Gailey was asked if he wants the front
office to re-sign Johnson, and he said, "Yes, and with stipulations.
You love what Stevie does on the field before he scores touchdowns, you
know. You just have to decide if he can and we can get that under
control. To say he doesn't have an impact would be a lie. But you have
to look at the whole body of work and not give a knee-jerk reaction to
something that happened.
"But at the same time, it's not the first time, so
you take the whole body of work into consideration when you're making
decisions like that for your football team. Every evaluation is heavy
when you are talking about things like this."
In the locker room after the game, most players
ducked the issue and just said it's the coach's decision and they
accepted it, but it was clear they weren't happy with Johnson's antics.
"We can't have those type of penalties, they hurt
us," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "I know Stevie wants to have fun,
but he's a young player, and he's going to have to step up into that
leader role, and you can't do that. We can't have those type of things.
We lose him, he's one of our valuable weapons, obviously."
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said the offense took
a hit without its best receiver on the field, and while he wouldn't
call Johnson out publicly, it was obvious he wasn't pleased by what
happened and that he wondered what the future held for Johnson, a
player he has had a good and productive relationship with.
"Who knows, maybe this is the last game we play
together, but maybe it's not," Fitzpatrick said. "Things started out
well, and unfortunately he got taken out. It definitely hurt that
Stevie wasn't out there. I don't know what to tell you. I assume
whatever he did, he didn't think he would get a penalty for it.
Unfortunately, he got the penalty, and Chan made the decision."
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