Late in the second quarter, Tom Brady lofted a back-shoulder pass to the left side of the end zone and, while being closely covered, Antonio Brown hauled it in for a touchdown, a reminder of the singular talent he possesses on a football field.
There were also some signs pregame of the distractions Brown can bring. He was barefoot on the field during warm-ups and, in a move that might not have delighted New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, he did a pregame interview with Chad Ochocinco, the former wide receiver whose career in New England was mercifully brief.
As the lawsuit in which a woman accuses Brown of rape and sexual assault progresses, he was making his first appearance with the Patriots since signing with the team Sept. 7. Brady wasted no time in getting Brown involved in the offense. Brown caught four passes (on five targets) for 56 yards, carried once for five yards on an end around and scored on that 20-yard touchdown pass, his momentum carrying him over the wall behind the end zone and giving the Patriots a 13-0 halftime lead.
Brown wore the jersey No. 17, which his father wore in the Arena League, and he immediately hugged Brady upon taking the field for pregame warm-ups. During the game, he often sat next to fellow wide receiver Julian Edelman, who helped him adjust to what Brady expects from his wideouts.
Whatever Brown’s thoughts on his game, he wasn’t sharing them. Reporters at the game noted that, by the time media members were admitted to the locker room, Brown had left, with his locker cleaned out and his name plate removed.
Brady downplayed Brown’s presence.
“I didn’t think about it. I was just trying to throw to the open guy,” Brady said of the touchdown. And as for deciding to sign Brown, he shrugged that off as an executive decision. Wide receiver Josh Gordon was more expansive.
“He continues to be who we expected him to be,” Gordon, who caught two passes for 19 yards, told reporters, “and that’s a great wide receiver and good football player. For us it’s a tremendous asset. ... There’s no way you can pinpoint one facet of our offense to shut us down. ... We’re glad to have him.”
The first-half yards were the extent of the contributions from Brown, who did not play in the preseason with the Oakland Raiders, despite being targeted three more times in the second half of New England’s 43-0 victory. Brady finished with 264 yards passing, completing 20 of 28 passes for two touchdowns and sneaking for one himself. Edelman caught four passes for 51 yards, Phillip Dorsett had three receptions for 39 yards. Sony Michel had 21 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown.
But will the Patriots’ offense, which has outscored opponents 76-3 in two games, continue to have Brown? And for how long? Multiple people familiar with the case have said it remains possible that the NFL will place Brown on the exempt list, which would make him ineligible to play for and practice with the team, The Post’s Mark Maske reports. The league hopes to make its decision soon, although it isn’t clear whether that will come down this week. Brown’s accuser will meet with NFL officials on Monday.
Brown has not been charged with a crime, but the NFL’s personal conduct policy empowers Commissioner Roger Goodell to place Brown on the exempt list if, after an investigation, he believes that policy may have been violated.
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