One part of Antonio Brown’s brief but idiotic tenure with the Patriots has gotten lost in the sauce.
We remember the unveiling in Miami during Week 2 and that Brown and Tom Brady had instant kismet in the first quarter.
But after going 4-for-4 for 56 yards with a touchdown on his first four throws to Brown, Brady didn’t hit him again.
The next four attempts to get him the ball against what was then a JV-level Miami defense all failed. It was almost completely a “not on the same page” issue on all four of the incompletions.
The point? Don’t expect Brown to instantaneously look like the Hall of Fame-level player he was in Pittsburgh just because he’s joined up with Brady.
The two practiced and played together for five practices and one game. And that was after Brown actually had an offseason and training camp (such as it was) with the Oakland Raiders before blasting his way out of that situation and into New England on September 9.
But those five practices, I was told last year, were enough to make Brady a lifelong convert. “Near perfect football” is the way it was described to me with more than a half-dozen breathtaking “nobody else can do that”-type plays.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are – on paper – better than they were on Friday morning. But in Foxboro, a philosophy in Foxboro that’s long held sway is, “We’re not collecting talent. We’re building a team.”
Can Tampa – with Super Bowl-caliber talent – become a team with all its talent?
Are all oars pulling in the same direction within the Bucs hierarchy – Brady and head coach Bruce Arians in particular?
How does a team that doesn’t ooze maturity respond to ongoing renovations being overseen by Brady who – despite his resume – is the new guy and may be a short-timer?
That’s just one of a few things to chew on this weekend.
BRADY’S BENEVOLENT SIDE
There’s no denying Brown is a maniac. There’s also no getting around the fact that, if his skill set were closer to Brian Tyms, Brady wouldn’t have been as keen on getting AB signed, squared away working out at TB12 and hanging with the family at the house in Brookline.
So it’s impossible to look at Brady’s Father Flanagan “there are no bad boys” approach to Brown without some cynicism. He may want the best for this screwed-up guy. But he’s devoted to Brown at least in part because Brown is as good as it gets.
Days after intimidating text messages from Brown to an accuser were revealed, messages which referenced the woman’s children, the Patriots released Brown.
Brady didn’t agree with the decision.
Speaking to WEEI a few days after Brown’s release, Brady said, “You want everyone to become the best they could they could possibly be. And you try to provide leadership and try to care for people. You try to provide whatever you think you can to help them reach their highest potential,” Brady continued. “Whatever situation it is, and I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years. So you invest not just your head but you heart, your soul. That’s what makes a great team, that’s what makes a great brotherhood.”
He was even more strident in a conversation with Jim Gray on Westwood One days after Brown’s release.
“I don’t make any personnel decisions,” he said. “I don’t decide to sign players. I don’t decide to trade then. I don’t decide to release them. I don’t decide to draft them. I don’t get asked, I show up and do my job. I’m an employee like everyone else. I’m going to show this week and do the best I can do as quarterback. … Maybe one day I will be an owner and I can make all the decisions that I want.”
Brady kept up with Brown throughout the 2019 season and visited with him in South Florida the week of the Super Bowl.
Conversations with people close to Brady consistently come back to the theme that, if Brown is getting proper counsel and attention, he is a good person. And cultivating that person doesn’t just make him a useful football player but helps him in his personal life to be a good father, citizen, etc.
The bottom line is that Antonio Brown has been given chances galore. The list of people who’ve stuck their necks out for him literally has to be in the hundreds and yet he just keeps lopping off heads.
Yet here’s Brady, backing a guy who – without fail – has found a way to betray people’s trust in him.
Brady isn’t the first to stick his neck out, of course, just the latest, most obvious and the one with the most at stake.
He’s clearly emboldened in Tampa to give personnel input in a way he never was here in New England, he’s sticking his neck out for Brown and has persuaded others to do the same. But Brown is an adult with free will and the ability to make his own moronic decisions which he often does.
If and when Brown steps in it down in Tampa, the splatter will land on Brady and everybody else.
If it doesn’t, though? If it works and Brown isn’t just a great receiver but a good teammate who helps the Bucs achieve and becomes an example of someone who was down, out, derided and demonized but persevered and became a shining example of redemption? That story has to be told as well because there is value in it that goes beyond football.
I’m not betting on it.
KEEP AN EAR OUT FOR ARIANS
One difference between Bill Belichick and Bucs coach Bruce Arians is in their willingness to point a finger. Even when Belichick lays blame, he does so in such a veiled and general way, you need a PhD. in BillSpeak to even see the assault.
That won’t be the case with Arians who’s plain-talkin’, hip-shootin’, jes’ folks approach is excellent cover for the frequent occasions when he rolls somebody under the bus.
His just-telling-it-like-it-is approach has a “Don’t blame me…” tinge to it and it will be absolutely fascinating to see how he tapdances around the fact Antonio Brown is in Tampa in October after declaring in June Antonio Brown was a bad fit.
The general jist I anticipate? “Not my idea. We’re doing what Tom wants, trying to make life easier for him. It’s all about Tom.”
WHAT WOULD BB HAVE DONE?
In the immediate aftermath of Brown’s release, I was reliably told that the decision was unanimous. Within a few days, it was clear to me that it really wasn’t. Definitely not on Brady’s part. And Belichick – while he understood that it was Robert Kraft’s call – was not a fan of it either.
He by no means was leading the charge to let Brown go, as evidenced by the fact he had Brown on the practice field as a full participant on the day he was released, Friday, September 19.
This is what I wrote about it last year after the dust had settled a bit.
I reported last Friday evening that the decision to release Brown was unanimous, that the threatening texts were a “bridge too far.” After more conversations this week, I’ve come to understand that unanimous decision wasn’t easily reached. Belichick accepted the decision and understood it. But he was by no means leading the charge to move on — and if Kraft hadn’t insisted, Brown would probably still be here.
Which, one can logically conclude, is why Brown made sure to show appreciation for Belichick in social media posts after his release while sending drone strikes at Kraft on Sunday morning.
Why, when asked, “What was the last straw?” did Belichick not at least mumble something to Dana Jacobson about the decision being what was best for the football team? Because he isn’t sold that it was the best thing for the football team. And the real answer, “Robert is the boss and the heat got too hot…” would have been less prudent than an icy stare.
By laying out the way things went down, I’m not seeing an insurrection against Kraft in the offing.
Brady — as he made very clear — is in, “Don’t ask me, I just work here…” mode. And Belichick has to know that the entire Brown affair has made life more difficult for the owner. They move on.
Here in New England, Belichick and Brady were in lockstep when it came to signing Brown. After Belichick broached the possibility with Kraft, the owner reached out to Brady. According to the recently-released book, “The Dynasty” by Jeff Benedict, Brady “appreciated being asked.”
“One of his biggest frustrations in recent years had been the way key personnel decisions that affected the offense were made without input from him. … It aggravated him that after two decades as the team’s quarterback, he still wasn’t a part of the conversation before important moves were made.”
Tellingly, it was Kraft that reached out. Not Belichick. Either way, Belichick was dismissive of Brown when asked why he felt Brown wouldn’t be an irritant in New England as he’d been in Pittsburgh and Oakland.
"I wasn't in either of those places, so I really can't comment on what did or didn't happen there," Belichick responded.
When it was pointed out that Brown’s disruptiveness was well-documented in each spot, Belichick answered, "It's the same thing you guys said about Randy Moss when we brought him in."
The reason for revisiting recent history – and it is recent even though it feels like 15 years ago – is this: Acquiring Antonio Brown is every bit the bad idea now that I believed it to be a year ago here in New England.