MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Spygate. Deflategate. Orchids-ofAsiaGate. Now Antoniogate.
Better than any team in the history of professional sports, the Patriots know what to do when they are charged with cheating or ethical bankruptcy.
Just win, baby. Take no prisoners. Fire all your guns at once. Deny, deny, then accuse. Give everybody the finger and march toward another Super Bowl Sunday. Unleash members of your fanboy nation as born-again civil libertarians, righteous in their pursuit of touchdowns over everything else.
This is what we got Sunday on a sunny, swampy afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium.
Got a problem with the Pats signing Antonio Brown, then letting him play six days after Brown is slapped with a civil suit alleging sexual assault and rape?
Too bad. The Pats did what they always do in this situation. They kicked butt, 43-0. More than that, they made Brown part of their high-flying offense. Immediately.
On the Patriots’ first drive, Tom Brady connected with the mercurial Brown three times for 36 yards. Brown was the only target on that touchdown drive. Later in the half, Brown caught his first touchdown pass as a Patriot, a 20-yard strike, which prompted him to vault into the stands that were . . . naturally . . . full of Patriot fans.
Before the game, the Patriots media cartel tried selling a story that Kraft had no knowledge of Brown’s impending civil case when the Patriots signed the crazed receiver last weekend. We were told that Kraft never would have allowed the acquisition if he had only known. This is a page out of the Kraft/cartel playbook: always position the owner so he can look good even when he is not doing good things.
Kraft made it to Hard Rock Stadium (73 miles from Jupiter) well before kickoff. He had a pregame conversation with Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus. That must have been a beauty. Wonder if Bob told the agent he’d been duped again.
The Patriots were defiant all day, still chucking up the ball and scoring late in the fourth quarter. It was as if Eric Mangini — not old friend Brian Flores — was coaching on the other sideline. When it was over, Belichick was especially testy and Brown was unavailable altogether.
It was weird. We all wanted to hear from Antonio. He has not spoken to the media since signing with the Patriots. He is required by league rules to be available after games. Late in the game, veteran Patriot publicist Stacey James told us that Brown would be answering questions in the media room. But then the game ended and Brown was gone. His name plate was gone from atop his locker.
It’s a finable offense, but the Patriots don’t care about a little thing like a league fine. They’ve endured far worse. And they don’t care. They are smart enough to know that the combustible Brown is unlikely to help himself if he talks.
The outcome of the game, of course, was never in doubt. The Dolphins are trying to lose, and had a locker-room mutiny after they were spanked, 59-10, by the Ravens in the opener last week. The Pats were ridiculous 19-point favorites in Week 2, quite historic for a road team. The Pats crushed the spread. They have outscored Pittsburgh and Miami by an aggregate 76-3. It’s like United States women’s soccer team vs. Thailand — without the pin-wheeling celebrations.
When Belichick was asked about Brown’s performance, he said he would have to look at the film. When he was asked about the decision to allow Brown to play, he said he would only talk about the game. When he was asked about running up the score at the end, he said, “We run the offense. We’ve never changed that in 20 years.’’
This weekend was never about Patriots vs. Dolphins. It was, rather, a demonstration of what happens when anyone tries to corner Belichick and the Krafts. Belichick and the Patriots only care about winning and Antonio Brown helps you win. Now we just have to wait and see if the league thinks Brown is fit to pursue his craft without interruption. Brown’s alleged victim is scheduled to be interviewed at league headquarters Monday.
Only two people know if Brown is being unfairly charged and set up by a money grabbing (according to Brown’s agent) accuser. For some of us, the contents of Brown’s texts to the alleged victim (they are part of the civil complaint and they have yet to be denied by Brown) would be enough to earn him a suspension from a league that routinely mishandles sexual harassment and abuse cases. The Patriots don’t care. Unless this thing turns criminal, they are going to leave it up to the league to decide. Brown is going to play. And he is going to play well.
Pats fans can cheer their hearts out for Antonio Brown. And he is indeed a fine football player.
The Patriots are 2-0. Their point-differential after two games is plus-73. They play the Jets next week. Then the Bills. The run to 19-0 cannot be stopped.
And if you don’t like it . . . too bad.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org