MIAMI GARDENS -- It's not often that a group of dozens of reporters have the same question at the same time. The possibilities are endless after any football game, even a blowout.
But when reporters first entered into the visitor locker room at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday afternoon, there was one query every person flooding the place with a microphone wanted to know: Where was Antonio Brown?
The newest Patriots receiver led his team in receiving in its 43-0 dismantling of the Dolphins, catching four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. He saw a team-high eight targets from Tom Brady.
It was a debut on the one hand, and a homecoming of sorts on the other as Brown hails from South Florida. He was cheered loudly by locals and temporarily transplanted Patriots fans alike during warmups, long before his first meaningful catch in a Patriots uniform.
Yet he was gone. Poof. As quickly as he ran by Dolphins young corner Jomal Wiltz for his first touchdown connection with Tom Brady.
A civil lawsuit filed in Florida's Southern District last week alleged that Brown had sexually assaulted and raped his former trainer Britney Taylor. News broke of the suit on the same day he was added to New England's 53-man roster. He will reportedly meet with the NFL in short order, as will Taylor, as part of the league's investigation into whether or not Brown should be disciplined following the allegations detailed in the lawsuit.
That explains the quick exit, though players are required by league rule to be available to reporters after every game. But this exit was quicker than most. The name plate was already ripped off his locker. He didn't even have time to wait for the game ball that apparently was sent his way: One was resting on a shelf in the emptied-out stall.
Teammate Phillip Dorsett, seeing the throng of reporters hovering around the space that once was Brown's, pointed out that, yes, Brown had indeed left and wasn't coming back.
That left fellow Patriots players to discuss the story of the day: Brown's integration into the offense. It was quick. It was impressive. He ran a variety of routes and executed them early, catching all three targets sent his way to help spark a 10-play drive that led to the team's first touchdown. He was then the recipient of their second just before halftime as he scooted by Wiltz and reeled in a back-shoulder dart from Brady.
"I don't think any of us had any doubts about AB's skill set," Josh Gordon said. "I think it was just good for everybody to see it in an actual game. He continues to be what we expect him to be -- a great wide receiver and football player.
"For us, it is a tremendous asset. It takes huge stress off offensive linemen, the running backs, everybody. There's no way to pinpoint one facet of our offense and try to shut us down. As you just saw, it's pretty tough to try to contain us. With him, it's a huge help. Glad to have him."
Julian Edelman searched for words to describe Brown's early impact and settled on "tough." As in it's going to be tough for defenses to figure things out with Brown part of the equation.
After practicing with Brown for a week, Edelman wasn't taken aback by Brown running out routes as well as slants and skinny posts. He drew a holding penalty on a whip route -- something Edelman has made famous in the Patriots offense since beating the Seahawks in the Super Bowl five years ago -- and even took a jet-sweep handoff that went for five yards and a first down.
"He's a smart football player," Edelman said. "He's played in this league a while. He knows football. It was awesome to get him out there, get him established a little bit."
Last week the plan for the Patriots was to rely heavily on their two-back sets. Rex Burkhead and James White took the field simultaneously quite a bit. But with Brown added in, the Patriots could potentially lean on more four-receiver sets since that's suddenly one of their deepest positions. Brown's touchdown came out of a four-receiver look with one back: 10 personnel.
"It opens up things for other people," Burkhead said of Brown's addition. "When you have a weapon like that, the defense is gonna have to look at him. Whether that's a double-team or something else, someone else is gonna be open. Just having that person always helps you out.
"I'm sure they're keying on him. It's tough when you've got Josh out there as well. What we gotta do is we can't settle. Can't get complacent. Gotta keep moving forward."
It wasn't perfect Sunday. There was a drive where Brown and Brady couldn't connect on a slant due in part to the timing of the play. Later Brown never saw a Brady pass chucked his way on their first clear instance of miscommunication. Soon thereafter in the end zone, Brady and Brown couldn't connect even though Brown beat corner Eric Rowe off the line. Brady appeared to take the blame for that one.
They'll work on those things back at Gillette Stadium this week. They'll give Brown more to see what he can handle. But after one week, even though he wasn't around to say it himself, it's clear there's a lot of potential for a player of Brown's talent level in the Patriots offense.
"Hopefully it all keeps compounding," Edelman said. "That's what you try to do continuously throughout the year is just try to improve and get better and better, and that's what we'll look forward to doing next week at practice."
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