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NFL Week 17: Let’s not jump to conclusions on the Antonio Brown case

A shirtless Antonio Brown gestured to the crowd as he left the field in the third quarter Sunday.Andrew Mills/Associated Press

Yes, it’s easy to rip on Antonio Brown. He has been disruptive, destructive, and egomaniacal throughout his 12-year NFL career. He has shown zero impulse control, and he can’t help but flush all of his second opportunities down the drain.

Yet perhaps it’s prudent to take a beat and let the facts sort themselves out before crushing Brown for his decision to leave the Buccaneers sideline and head out of the stadium in the third quarter of Sunday’s 28-24 win over the Jets.

It was a bizarre scene, no doubt — Brown removing his jersey, shoulder pads, and undershirt and jogging off the field while his team was driving toward the end zone. But according to a report Monday from NFL Media, the situation may be more complicated than it appears, and Brown may have just been protecting himself from an overzealous coach.

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The Brown situation is where we begin the Week 17 Review:

▪ The video captured by the Fox cameras and fans in the stands gave the appearance of Brown losing his cool and quitting on his team. Brown reportedly changed quickly in the locker room, took an Uber from the stadium, and flew home — or wherever he went — on his own.

Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians refused to address the situation with reporters after the game, other than to say Brown was no longer with the team. Arians later told NBC Sports’s Peter King that he was very upset at Brown for refusing to go back into the game.

“It’s a shame,” Arians told King. “I feel bad for him. He just can’t help himself.”

What Arians didn’t tell King was that, according to NFL Media, the disagreement was over Brown’s injured ankle, which kept him out for nearly half the season and forced him to miss practice Thursday and Friday. The report stated that the coaches wanted Brown back in the game with the Bucs trailing, 24-10, in the third quarter, but Brown said he didn’t want to play on the ankle.

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Arians exploded, and Brown left the sideline. On Monday, Arians disputed the report and said the argument was not about Brown’s injury, but he declined to get into specifics.

How to sort this out? On one hand, it’s hard to take Brown at face value given his well-established history of dysfunction. The fact that Brown jogged pretty seamlessly off the field does not bolster his case. His ankle defense may just be what his lawyer intends to use at his inevitable grievance hearing against the Bucs to collect the rest of his $1.1 million salary.

On the other, Arians, 69, has some old-school coaching tendencies, and it’s not crazy to think that he would have a disagreement with a player about pushing through an injured ankle. In a violent sport like football, if players don’t look out for their own well-being, nobody will.

Brown may be worth listening to on this one, because he cost himself a good chunk of money by quitting on his team when he was close to unlocking nearly $1 million in incentives (though he has never been the most rational guy).

Tom Brady, notably, asked for sympathy Sunday when asked about Brown.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Brady said. “I think everyone should be very compassionate and empathetic toward some very difficult things that are happening.”

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Tsk-tsking Brown is usually fun, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge him on this one until all of the facts emerge.

▪ The game of the day was the Bengals outslugging the Chiefs, 34-31, in what felt like a heavyweight title fight. Joe Burrow & Co. lit up the scoreboard, as he finished with 446 passing yards and four touchdown passes, and Ja’Marr Chase set a rookie record with 266 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

But the Bengals defense was equally impressive, holding the Chiefs to just 3 points in the second half to erase an 11-point halftime deficit.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes felt the pressure of the Cincinnati defense.Andy Lyons/Getty

The Bengals improved to 10-6 and won the AFC North for the first time since 2015. And Sunday’s win sent the message that they are legitimate contenders. Meanwhile, the Chiefs fell to No. 2 in the AFC, potentially losing the first-round bye with the crushing loss.

▪ The Bills maintained their lead over the Patriots in the AFC East, but their 29-15 win over the Falcons in the snow was historically ugly. Quarterback Josh Allen, who played like an MVP last week against the Patriots, completed just 11 of 26 passes for 120 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

Allen became the first quarterback in five years to win a game with no touchdown passes and three interceptions (Ben Roethlisberger in December 2016), and his 17.0 passer rating was the lowest for a winning quarterback since 2010, when the Bears’ Todd Collins registered a 6.2.

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All the Bills have to do is beat the Jets at home next week to wrap up the AFC East title and a home game in the wild-card round. But the Bills are 5-3 at home and have played some of their most inconsistent ball at Highmark Stadium.

Josh Allen's Bills pulled out an ugly win at home against Atlanta.Kevin Hoffman/Getty

▪ The Titans wrapped up their second consecutive AFC South title with a 34-3 win over the Dolphins, and they reclaimed the all-important No. 1 seed thanks to the Chiefs’ loss. A win at Houston next week will wrap up the bye and home-field advantage, which will be huge for a team that could use an extra week for Derrick Henry to get healthy.

But Sunday’s game was really about the Dolphins exposing themselves as frauds. They were the first team in NFL history to follow a seven-game losing streak with a seven-game win streak, but it’s clear that they simply benefitted from playing a remarkable stretch of bad quarterbacks. When they finally had to play a real team on Sunday, Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins folded like a cheap tent.

The Dolphins miss the playoffs for the fifth season in a row and 18th time in 20 years. And it seems pretty clear that they need to try to find an upgrade at quarterback.

▪ The Cowboys lost to the Cardinals, 25-22, and spent the entire postgame whining about the officials.

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“The refs wouldn’t let us get in a rhythm,” receiver CeeDee Lamb said.

“I don’t know if it’s incompetence or what it is,” linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said.

“Playing against the refs again, like usual, it seems like an every-week occurrence,” pass rusher Randy Gregory said.

The 11-5 Cowboys have the NFC East wrapped up. But I’m skeptical that they have the mental toughness to make a deep playoff run.

Ranking Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates

1. Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase: Locked up the award with Sunday’s win. Voters like to see a “signature performance,” and Chase certainly provided one with 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns. It was Chase’s second 200-yard game, and he is now fourth in the NFL with 1,429 receiving yards, a rookie record.

Ja'Marr Chase lit up the stat sheet against the Chiefs.Andy Lyons/Getty

2. Patriots QB Mac Jones: Had a nice bounce-back day against the Jaguars, and deserves a lot of credit for leading the Patriots to the playoffs as a rookie. But Jones hasn’t had any “wow” games like Chase had Sunday, nor has he dominated his position the way Chase has.

3. Steelers RB Najee Harris: Entered Monday night’s game ranked ninth in the NFL with 1,406 scrimmage yards.

4. Falcons TE Kyle Pitts: Had two catches for 69 yards in a loss to the Bills, joining Mike Ditka as the only rookie tight ends in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards (1,018).

5. Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle: Had three catches for 47 yards in a loss to the Titans, and has 99 catches this season, but for just 988 yards.

Tracking former Patriots

▪ Bucs QB Tom Brady: Had his 13th career game of 400 passing yards, tied with Dan Marino for third all-time. Only Drew Brees (16) and Peyton Manning (14) have more. And authored his 53rd game-winning drive, tied with Brees for most since 2000.

▪ Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski: Had seven catches for 115 yards for his 31st career 100-yard game, tied with Tony Gonzalez for most in NFL history by a tight end.

▪ 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Missed the Niners’ 23-7 win over Houston with a thumb injury that could require offseason surgery. Can he get back in time for the crucial game against the Rams next weekend that could determine whether they get in the playoffs?

▪ Texans WR Brandin Cooks: Had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Niners, pushing him over 1,000 receiving yards (1,011) for the sixth time in eight seasons.

▪ Titans coach Mike Vrabel: Probably deserves to win Coach of the Year, with his team holding the AFC’s No. 1 seed despite being decimated by injuries and using an NFL-record 88 players.

▪ Dolphins coach Brian Flores: Needs to find a quarterback who can play in cold weather.

▪ Giants coach Joe Judge: His team has scored six touchdowns in seven games since its bye. The Giants may want to say “bye-bye” to Judge after this season.

Stats of the Week

▪ The NFL has had a team go from worst to first in 17 of the last 19 years, with the Bengals accomplishing the feat this season.

▪ The Packers are the first team in NFL history to win 13 games in three consecutive seasons, and coach Matt LaFleur is the winningest coach over his first three seasons in NFL history (39-9).

▪ Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers set an NFL record with his 12th game this season (and sixth in a row) with two touchdown passes and no interceptions.

▪ Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has thrown for 971 yards the last two weeks, the second-most in NFL history (974 by Dak Prescott in a two-game stretch in 2020). Burrow also joined Jameis Winston as the only QBs with 450 yards and four touchdowns in consecutive games.

▪ The Colts dropped to 9-1 when Jonathan Taylor rushes for 100 yards.

▪ The Patriots became the first team since the 2014 Packers to score 50 points twice in a season.

▪ Rams QB Matthew Stafford threw his NFL-high fourth pick-6 of the season, and now has thrown 27 in his career, trailing only Brett Favre (32), Marino (28), and Joe Namath (28).




Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.