Tom Brady had his way on the field Sunday, carving up the Raiders with age-defying precision, leading the Buccaneers to a 45-20 win that wasn’t even as close as the score suggests. He threw for four touchdowns, became the NFL’s all-time leader in that category, and pulled off a patented quarterback keeper for another score. He totaled 369 passing yards, spreading the ball to nine receivers.
All of it is great for the 5-2 Bucs, who are leading the competitive NFC South and well on their way to the playoffs.
And yet, he wants more. And because he’s Tom Brady, he’s going to get it, whether or not it’s good for the Bucs long-term.
In case you haven’t noticed, this season continues to show us how much Brady is having his way off the field, too, influencing Tampa Bay’s front office with the clout he wanted but could never get in New England. But if convincing his bosses it was a good idea to coax his old buddy Rob Gronkowski out of retirement was relatively easy, Brady’s latest power play is a whole lot riskier. And a whole lot more serious.
Antonio Brown is back. Business is boomin'. And the smart bettor takes the under on how long until it all blows up, until Brady is left to explain why he needed one more offensive toy on a roster that already features Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Cameron Brate, Tyler Johnson, Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, and of course, Gronk.
Put aside for the moment coach Bruce Arians’s unsolicited postgame assertion Sunday that Brady had nothing to do with the decision to add the oft-troubled wide receiver, who would be eligible to play in Week 9. Or just take it for what it was — a coach giving cover to his star player.
But remember this: It was only in March that Arians issued a declarative “not gonna happen” about Brown ever joining the Bucs. He’d worked with Brown in Pittsburgh, and with that in mind, he told CBS Radio, “Yeah, I just know him, and it’s not a fit in our locker room.”
So of this you can be sure: This move had Brady’s hands all over it, no matter how much his own postgame comments tried to downplay his affinity for the man with whom he shared one brief but glorious game last year in New England. Glorious by football standards anyway, but a disaster of a PR move for the image-conscious Patriots, and one that no doubt contributed to the second-half malaise that led to an early playoff exit.
Brown’s earlier breakup with the Steelers, also rancorous, and his ridiculous foray with the Raiders are what set him up to sign with the Patriots, the one team desperate enough for playmaking talent to ignore Brown’s antics in Oakland, where he publicly feuded with everyone from general manager Mike Mayock to the NFL’s rulebook on helmets.
But when allegations of rape surfaced against Brown ahead of the Week 2 game he played in New England, after Brown was accused of sending threatening texts to his accuser, not even those four catches from Brady for 56 yards and a touchdown could save his job.
He was cut, and in the year-plus since, he earned himself an eight-game suspension for various violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, including multiple run-ins with the law. He even made a few announcements he’d retired, all of them hollow.
Through it all, however, he never took shots at Brady, and Brady never lost faith in him. Now, they’re together again.
“He’s a tremendous football player,” Brady said Sunday. “I played with him for a brief period of time. I’m looking forward to working with him again, seeing what role he can be in. He’s a very hard-working guy.”
That Brady chose to define Brown in football terms only meant he ignored the other half of a question about his impressions of Brown as a person and as a player. That’s really not a surprise. Brady may have tired of playing for Bill Belichick, but that’s not to say he didn’t learn a thing or two from his old coach about how to avoid saying anything of consequence in a postgame interview.
Brady didn’t have to describe how much he wanted to play with Brown again; his season-long pout-fest after Brown got himself bounced out of New England last year said it all.
Brady never seemed to get past team owner Robert Kraft’s unwillingness to give Brown another chance, and his perpetual frustration with Belichick as his GM finally passed the point of no return. But where Belichick might appear stubborn for not soliciting or indulging Brady’s input on roster moves, Arians looks like Brady’s puppet. Why else would he be singing such a different tune from the one he did in March?
“I think he’s matured,” Arians said. “And I believe in second chances.
"Everybody wants to say that Tom picked him. Tom didn’t have anything to do with it. This is something [GM] Jason [Licht] and I have been talking about for weeks, ever since the injuries to our other guys. And when the time was right, we would see if we should pull the trigger and fit him into what we want to get done.
"We’ll see. If Antonio does what I think he’s going to do, he’s going to be fine.”
That’s a big if. Don’t forget Brown is still not clear of potential NFL discipline because he is still not clear of legal trouble. The sexual assault civil suit filed in September 2019 by his former personal trainer Britney Taylor is set to go to trial in December.
Brown’s ugly history with women is why Arians seems such an unlikely match, given his own exemplary track record of supporting women in football. Maybe that’s why he was at his most declarative about what those allegations could still mean for Brown.
“Let the court system do its job,” Arians said. “If it’s found out to be true, he won’t be with us.”
At this point, who even knows what Brown can do on the field? Brady obviously believes the Pro Bowl talent is still there, and in his quest to win a seventh Super Bowl, the first without Belichick, that’s enough.