The pregame death stare Bill Belichick delivered somewhere underneath Gillette Stadium to CBS reporter Dana Jacobson was one of our earliest indicators as to how the Patriots hoped their Sunday would go.
Antonio Brown . . . who is he?
The big, bad Patriot coach made it clear he had neither desire nor intention of answering Jacobson’s perfectly reasonable question about the erstwhile Patriot wide receiver, preferring to pretend as if the previous 11 days never happened. When Jacobson asked what the final straw had been in the decision to release the embattled Brown on Friday, Belichick punctuated his “Yeah, we’re focused on the Jets today,” with an awkwardly long and decidedly angry-looking glower.
On Friday morning, Belichick walked away from his regularly scheduled press conference because reporters refused to follow his directive and kept asking questions about Brown, instead of talking about Sunday’s biannual appointment to beat up on the Jets. This time, before completing that appointed round with a 30-14 blowout, Belichick just stood there staring at Jacobson, saying nothing more.
Neither amounts to a decent response to a legitimate and appropriate line of inquiry, though neither amounts to much of a surprise either. The Patriots would like nothing more than for this sordid story to disappear from their football lives, for their decision to sign and play Brown in the Week 2 win over Miami be forgotten in the heap of victories they’re destined to pile up the rest of this season whether he is still on the roster or not. He’s not on our team anymore, they figure, so he’s not our problem anymore either.
Not so fast.
This one is going to leave a stain. Belichick got greedy — stockpiling talent with a player he didn’t necessarily need but wanted nonetheless. Do you honestly think the Pats aren’t favored to reach the AFC title game, at the very least, even without Brown? In the early going Sunday, without all-purpose weapon James White, Tom Brady completed passes to Brandon Bolden, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Ryan Izzo, and Phillip Dorsett, ultimately scoring an opening touchdown on a run by Sony Michel.
On the field, this much was true: Antonio Brown . . . who is he?
But off it? Not so fast. The Patriots don’t get to erase these last 11 days. Brown is part of this, all the way to the Super Bowl if that’s where this season ultimately ends. The part Brown played in getting them there won’t ever go away, living on as tangible proof of just how much public sentiment this franchise is willing to risk in the name of winning football games. They are tied to him now, and he is surely ready to make sure they, and we, don’t forget it.
With a(nother) series of incendiary tweets Sunday morning, Brown made the Patriots his latest target, going as far as taking a shot at owner Robert Kraft’s embarrassing incident at a massage parlor last February. He later deleted that tweet, along with ones about other NFLers accused of sexual misconduct, such as his former Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger and current broadcaster Shannon Sharpe, both of whom returned to work. But the one that started it all, in which he said he will no longer play in the NFL, angry that owners are not paying him guaranteed bonus money, remained on his profile.
Who would take a chance on him now anyway? While the league continues its investigation of his actions to determine whether they violate the personal conduct policy, work that could result in Brown landing on the commissioner’s exempt list the moment he tries to end his free agency, he is more of a risk than ever. But as much as I believed that was the risk Brown himself took when he joined the Patriots, figuring if he couldn’t make it in New England under the strict control and structure of Belichick, he wouldn’t make it anywhere, I didn’t think the Pats had nearly as much to lose.
How wrong I was. From the moment they associated themselves with Brown’s particular brand of controversy, they made it clear they would condone plenty of ugliness in a tradeoff for productivity. Now that it got too ugly even for them, they won’t even talk about it.
Of course, Belichick should be asked to explain why Friday’s events were the deal breaker in keeping Brown, why the intimidating, threatening texts Brown sent to a second woman accusing him of sexual misconduct represented a final straw. A franchise always has to answer to its fans, and with the owner still officially silent, other than to spread the behind-the-scenes notion he was “enraged” about the texts, with fellow players in the locker room having no say in the business dealings of the front office, who else are we supposed to ask?
In the absence of any new statements, let’s revisit again what Kraft said in a public apology following the Orchids of Asia embarrassment: “As I move forward, I hope to continue to use the platform with which I have been blessed to help others and to try to make a difference. I expect to be judged not by my words, but by my actions. And through those actions, I hope to regain your confidence and respect.”
In the end, it was Kraft who acted to separate his team from Brown. Why did it take so long? Why was Friday the last straw? We don’t know, and likely never will. But the specter of those questions are part of this season now, whether the Patriots like it or not.