The NFL denied Bryant’s appeal on Monday, leaving one of the league’s most dynamic offenses without another playmaker heading into an already difficult opening month.
Pittsburgh will also be without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell for its opener on Sept. 10 at New England. Bell also is serving a two-game suspension under the same policy and All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey is out indefinitely with a left ankle injury.
Bryant became a key target for Ben Roethlisberger toward the end of the 2014 season. After spending the initial six games on the inactive list while he learned the playbook, he made his debut in a Monday night game against Houston and the Steelers took off, finishing with an 8-2 kick to win the AFC North with the league’s second-ranked offense. The 6-foot-4 Bryant finished with 26 receptions for 549 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 21.1 yards per catch and making opponents pay for focusing too much attention on All-Pro teammate Antonio Brown.
Bryant’s confidence soared during the offseason, with the former fourth-round pick adding 20 pounds of muscle, almost all in his upper body to help him better attack defenders at the line of scrimmage. Bryant showcased his rapid development in Saturday’s preseason loss to Buffalo, catching three passes for 138 yards and a touchdown while also drawing a pass interference penalty.
Now it will be up to Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookie Sammie Coates to carry the load for an offense that doesn’t look quite as explosive as it appeared when training camp opened a month ago.
“It is a disappointment to our entire organization as well as our fans, but we will continue to support Martavis during his suspension,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “It is very unfortunate his actions have put our team in this situation to begin the year, but we are confident he will learn from his mistake and return in excellent shape in Week 5.”
That would be for a game against San Diego. Bryant can rejoin the team on Oct. 2. The Steelers were able to overcome a 3-3 start last season after Bryant worked his way onto the active list, but have little margin for error as they try to separate themselves from Baltimore and Cincinnati in the ultra-competitive AFC North.
Veteran DeAngelo Williams will fill in for Bell while Bell is suspended two games for his DUI and drug possession arrest last August. Bell says the absence of two players who combined for 21 touchdowns a year ago will hurt but remains confident Pittsburgh won’t slow down.
“You got Wheaton from the outside. You got AB (Antonio Brown) on the outside, you got Heyward-Bey on the outside,” Bell said. “We got all types of play makers.”
Just not perhaps their most electric.
The Steelers acquired Josh Scobee from Jacksonville on Monday in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft after Garrett Hartley was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. The 33-year-old Scobee has made 235 of 291 (81 percent) of his field goals throughout 11 seasons with the Jaguars. … Pittsburgh put T Mike Adams on the physically unable to perform list and added second-round pick Senquez Golson to injured reserve. … The Steelers released 10 other players, including DE Joe Kruger, WR C.J. Goodwin and T Kevin Whimpey.
AP pro football writer Barry Wilner in New York contributed to this report.