During the third quarter of Sunday’s Buccaneers-Jets game, Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown took his jersey off, threw it into the stands, and walked off the field.
The Bucs were down, 24-10, at the moment Brown left the field, but rallied to win, 28-24. And after the game, coach Bruce Arians said Brown had been let go.
Teammate Mike Evans could be seen trying to calm Brown down on the sideline before Brown decided to ditch his jersey and shoulder pads and exit the field.
As he ran toward the locker room, Brown stopped in the end zone to face the fans, and waved his arms up and down as if he were trying to hype up the crowd at MetLife Stadium.
Brown had three catches for 26 yards before exiting the game.
After the game, coach Bruce Arians briefly addressed the incident.
“I’m not talking about it,” he said. “He’s not a part of the Bucs.”
Quarterback Tom Brady, with whom Brown stayed after initially signing with Tampa Bay midway through the 2020 season, would not elaborate much on the situation.
“That’s obviously a difficult situation, and I think we all want him to, you know ... I just think everybody should hopefully do wha they can to help him in ways that he really needs it,” Brady said. “We all love him, we care about him deeply, we want to see him be at his best and unfortunately it won’t be with our team.”
Brady said he was “in the game, focused” and wasn’t aware of what was happening on the sideline.
But the 44-year-old former Patriot alluded to deeper issues.
“I think everyone should be very compassionate and empathetic toward some very difficult things that are happening,” he said.
Fox’s Jay Glazer said later that Brown had refused to enter the game when asked to do so by Arians. Arians told Brown to get out after he refused a second time.
Of Brown taking off his jersey on the sideline, Arians said: “Never seen anything like it in all my years.”
Sunday was Brown’s second game back after serving a three-game suspension as punishment for violating the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. It was found he had produced a falsified vaccination card.
After Tampa Bay’s Week 16 win over the Panthers, Brown spoke with the media. It was the first time he had a chance to address the suspension, but when asked about it, he pivoted.
“I don’t want to talk about that. You guys is all about drama,” he said to the reporters. “This is all about football. We just talk about Carolina or I don’t want to talk to you guys.”
Brown continued, saying: “I’m just here to do my job. I can’t control what people write, how people try to frame me, people try to bring me down. Life is about obstacles and persevering and doing what’s right ... I’m standing before you guys grateful, humble, thankful.”
Then, when asked about an injury, he brought up the suspension again: “It’s a lot of drama you guys create, a lot of drama people create who want stuff from me. That’s a part of life, a part of being in the position. I can’t control what people want from me, what people write about me.”
The abrupt mid-game departure was the latest in a long string of incidents involving Brown, who has struggled to gain a foothold in the NFL after leaving the Steelers in 2019.
When Brown signed with Tampa Bay midway through the 2020 season, Arians said he had a “one-strike policy” when it came to off-the-field incidents.
But Arians welcomed Brown back into the locker room after the three-game suspension in December.
“When he came back to us, he was a model citizen,” Arians told Peter King in “Football Morning in America.” “There was a new history.”
It seems now that after two strikes, Brown is done with the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay was the first team Brown could latch on with since his ill-fated two weeks with the Patriots at the start of the 2019 season.
In early September, days after a very public and protracted release from the Raiders, Brown landed in New England, looking to make a new name for himself as Brady’s favorite target in what would be Brady’s final season in Foxborough.
A day after his signing, Brown was accused in a federal lawsuit filed in Florida of raping a former trainer.
Brown played in his only game with the Patriots on Sept. 15, a Week 1 rout of the Dolphins. The next day, new allegations — including a claim of sexual misconduct from a woman Brown had hired to work in his home — surfaced. Brown also allegedly made threatening remarks to the woman in the wake of the report.
On Sept. 20, the Patriots released Brown from the roster. He had signed just 13 days prior.
Brown did not appear in the NFL again during that season after dealing with a number of legal issues that landed him in court, including an incident that landed him in house arrest and in front of a judge after Brown attacked a delivery driver outside his Florida home.
In October 2020, Brown signed on with the Buccaneers, staying at Brady’s house as he tried to jump-start his career. He played the final nine regular-season games, and appeared in three of the Bucs’ four playoff games en route to a Super Bowl win.