FOXBOROUGH — In one week, Antonio Brown has asked for and received his release from the Oakland Raiders, signed a deal with the Patriots, received an invitation to room at the Brady-Bundchen residence, been accused in a lawsuit of sexual assault and rape by a former trainer, denied the allegations through a lawyer and through his agent in an appearance on “SportsCenter,” begun practicing with the Patriots, changed his jersey number, gone on Instagram Live with Alex Guerrero from the TB12 Center, noted gleefully that 17,000 people were watching that broadcast, been dropped by the helmet manufacturer Xenith, which had been sponsoring him since solving his helmet issues in Oakland this summer, and apparently has gotten the green light to play against the Dolphins Sunday.
The Patriots have discussed none of it.
“No,” said Phillip Dorsett. “It’s the Dolphins.”
So, with each new story rising long before the sun each morning, spawning headlines, drawing reporters who might otherwise be covering government or world affairs to Foxborough, and furthering the uncertain circumstances around one of the best receivers in football, that was it. Inside Gillette Stadium, there was no big team meeting called, no edict given from Bill Belichick, according to multiple players. It did not come up in an official capacity.
It had taken a while for Belichick and the coaching staff to even acknowledge the signing of Brown. When they finally did Tuesday, their comments were comically understated.
“Well, we think he’ll help our team, but until we start working with him . . . ,” Belichick said.
“Just an overall solid player that has done a lot of good things in our league,” added offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Among the good: 11,207 receiving yards in nine seasons. Four All-Pro selections. A league-leading 15 touchdowns just last season.
But then the bad came.
A little after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, the New York Times broke the news that a woman named Britney Taylor, who met Brown in college and trained him in 2017 and 2018, had alleged in a civil suit that Brown sexually assaulted her on three occasions, one of which was described as forcible rape. Included in the lawsuit are messages apparently from Brown to Taylor that describe one of the alleged assaults and contain disturbing, misogynistic language.
At 8:43 p.m., Darren Heitner, a lawyer representing Brown, released a statement on Twitter in which he claimed that Brown denies all the allegations and that all sexual activity between Brown and Taylor was consensual.
At 11:49 p.m., the Patriots made a statement in which they said that they were aware of the lawsuit and Brown’s reaction, that they do not condone domestic violence, and that the league would be investigating.
Wednesday morning, Belichick walked out of his scheduled news conference after 3 minutes and 50 seconds of back-and-forth. He usually goes for 15-20 minutes. He spoke 151 words total. On Friday, he spoke 231 in one answer about offensive line depth.
He said Brown would be at practice but would not say if he knew Brown was about to be called a sexual abuser when he decided to make him a part of the team. The news conference ended after an exchange in which Belichick was asked what conversations he’s had with Brown.
“Yeah, I mean I’m done with that, OK? Anything else on Miami? Any other questions?” Belichick said.
The reporter asked what Belichick meant by “done with it.”
“Yeah, and I just answered that question,” Belichick answered.
“Well, actually you didn’t,” the reporter said.
“Actually, I did,” Belichick responded, then walked out.
Meanwhile, it was still Wednesday, a big day in Foxborough. The middle of the week is when the padded practices happen. Players are in full install mode getting ready for Sunday.
“It’s been the same,” said Stephon Gilmore. “Just trying to really break down our opponent. We’ve got a couple new guys, so we’re trying to get to know the new guys. It’s been a normal week, we’re just going to try to get better. There hasn’t been a change.”
It went unspoken, but the message had come down from coaches to players that football was their only business. A few select veterans had the OK to speak about the allegations, but only to say that they were serious but people shouldn’t rush to judgment.
“It’s serious,” said Devin McCourty. “I don’t think anybody doesn’t realize how serious that situation is and everything, but I think from a football standpoint, we’ve got to be prepared to go out and play against the Dolphins on Sunday because that’s what our job calls on us to do.”
“I don’t want to minimize the serious nature of [the allegations], but I don’t feel as though I’m qualified to really speak to it because I don’t know anything about it,” Matthew Slater said.
Slater, when asked what advice he’d give a new player, did offer one message for Brown that felt a bit pointed.
“No one is bigger than the team,” he said.
When that’s true, it works both ways. Patriots players tend to surrender some of their individualism and agree to strict rules to be part of the team. If they have a personal issue, they can count on their teammates mostly leaving them alone about it.
“We don’t care about that stuff,” Gilmore said. “We just try to focus on our job. Stuff happens, you’ve got to let the coach handle it. Players try to play our game the best that we can and go from there.”
Dorsett said he couldn’t think of a time when he felt like a teammate was distracted by another teammate’s personal issue. If he saw that happening, he’d let coaches handle it.
Slater said he does think some players carry the responsibility of keeping everyone on track, but that the myopic focus in Foxborough mostly trickles down from coaches, namely Belichick.
So while the rest of the world agreed that the most important news was off the field, the Patriots were on to Miami. The task with Brown was to determine which of the plays he’d been taught over the course of the week would make their way into the final game plan.
“That’s the question,” Belichick said Friday morning. “That’s the question we’re asking ourselves, too. So, you go through the week like we’ve done. We’ve done different things. Now as we get to Friday, Saturday, we’ll decide what things we feel comfortable with. We may eliminate some of the things that we’ve done and concentrate on a certain group. Whether that’s five plays, 20 plays, I don’t know.”
The night before, Brown had gone on Instagram Live from the TB12 Center, where he was working out with Guerrero.
“No matter what they say. No matter what they hate, somebody’s still gotta go to work,” Brown said in the video.
Brown did not bring up the lawsuit specifically.
“Call God . . . In a time of crisis all I ask is love, dedication, and focus. Stay focused. The devil gonna try to bring you down when you get closer to your goals,” Brown said. “The key is, don’t let them.”
On Friday, Belichick was asked if he had any comment on the video.
“Yeah, I’m just here to talk about the game,” he said.
For the last two weeks, the NFL has been trying to keep the attention on its celebration of its 100th season. History, honor, triumph, those sorts of things. Brown has taken the microphone, though, and replaced them with drama and, now, serious scandal. It seems the only focus he hasn’t swallowed up is that of his own team.