Heyward told ESPN from this week's Pro Bowl preparations that the team would be wise to chill from the distractions and antics after a 13-win season ended with a playoff loss to Jacksonville.
"I just challenge all of us to not let that stuff happen again," Heyward said. "Who's to say we have to have all that stuff going on? We can be a better team because of it, grow from it, but that stuff is not going to get us anywhere. ... We've just got to make smarter decisions. Guys got to grow. I thought it got way too much media publicity with it. We've got to close ranks and get back to work."
Heyward, a first-team All-Pro after recording 12 sacks, said he was "shocked" by the narrative that the Steelers were undisciplined under coach Mike Tomlin. Heyward said that Tomlin never lost the team and that the Steelers were focused on Jacksonville leading up to the 45-42 divisional-round loss.
But the Steelers faced near-weekly distracting storylines on and off the field, including a Week 3 national anthem flap; Antonio Brown flipping a Gatorade cooler from the sideline in Baltimore; Martavis Bryant requesting a trade; Tomlin predicting "fireworks" with the New England Patriots; the fallout from James Harrison's release; safety Mike Mitchell predicting a Patriots playoff matchup that never happened; and Le'Veon Bell saying he'd contemplate retirement if the Steelers affixed the franchise tag to him again this offseason.
And that doesn't cover it all.
"Just a lot of stuff, AB kicking a Gatorade bottle or stuff like that," Heyward said. "I've gotten mad in certain situations, but because it's Antonio Brown, it gets blown out of proportion. We've just got to -- that stuff is going to happen, I understand -- but we've just got to focus in on what we do. ... Let's not give more food to the outside noise. Get back to business."
To be sure, Heyward pointed out that the Steelers showed resolve winning 13 games and that Brown, who apologized for the cooler incident, was the league's most dominant receiver yet again.
Heyward even called it "ingenious" that Tomlin told NBC's Tony Dungy in November that the Steelers anticipated seeing the Patriots in the playoffs.
"It took the pressure off us and put it on him," Heyward said.