EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Antonio Brown was apparently frustrated and angry. So he walked away.
From the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And possibly his NFL career.
The mercurial wide receiver was kicked off the Buccaneers after a bizarre, shirtless exit from the field before Tom Brady coolly led the Bucs on a 93-yard drive in the final minutes for a 28-24 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.
Coach Bruce Arians said after the game Brown was off the team.
“He is no longer a Buc,” Arians said. “All right? That’s the end of the story. Let’s talk about the guys who went out there and won the game.”
Brown’s mid-game meltdown came late in the third quarter with Tampa Bay trailing 24-10. He appeared animated while talking to Mike Evans, who tried to calm his teammate. But Brown stripped off his pads, jersey, gloves and T-shirt — tossing the gloves and T-shirt into the stands — and then walked bare-chested down the sideline and into the end zone. He then waved to fans as jogged through the end zone and into the tunnel at MetLife Stadium.
It appeared to be a show of frustration by Brown, who had three catches for 26 yards.
“I’m not talking about it,” Arians said. “He’s not part of the Bucs.”
Brown was suspended last month for three games for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols. He also has a history of personal conduct issues and bizarre behavior.
“It’s a difficult situation,” Brady said. “Everybody should do what they can to help him in ways that he really needs it. We all love him. We care about him deeply. We want to see him be at his best. Unfortunately, it won’t be with our team. ... I think everyone should be very compassionate and empathetic toward some very difficult things that are happening.”
Brady connected with Cameron Brate for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 4 shortly after Brown’s exit, and the QB finished the Bucs’ rally with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson with 15 seconds left.
The Bucs stuffed Jets QB Zach Wilson on fourth-and-2 at the 7 for no gain with New York trying to seal the victory. New York coach Robert Saleh said the play should’ve been a reverse to wide receiver Braxton Berrios, but Wilson had the option to sneak it based on the look.
“We did a very poor job of communicating that,” Saleh said, adding that ”it just makes you sick” because a handoff to Berrios would’ve likely been a first down.
Instead, it gave Brady and the Bucs the ball back with 2:12 left.
And that was more than enough time.
Brady marched the Buccaneers (12-4) down the field on nine plays, zipping a pass to Grayson — who was elevated from the practice squad — for the go-ahead score. It was Brady’s third TD pass of the game and 40th of the season, joining him with Drew Brees as the only players to throw for 40 touchdowns in consecutive seasons.
He finished 34 of 50 for 410 yards, the three TDs and an interception for Tampa Bay, which had Arians back after he tested positive for the coronavirus earlier in the week.
Le’Veon Bell ran in the 2-point conversion against his former team, forcing New York to need a touchdown. But the Jets (4-12) ran out of time.
“We’ve been in some crazy situations before,” Arians said, “but this was a very special one to come back and win that game.”
The game featured the largest age gap between starting quarterbacks since at least 1950, with the 22-year-old Wilson facing the 44-year-old Brady.
The Jets took a two-touchdown lead on Ty Johnson’s 1-yard run that capped their opening drive of the second half.
After Brown’s exit and Brady’s TD to Brate, Ryan Succop kicked a 27-yard field goal to cut New York’s lead to 24-20 with 7:36 left.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re going to be talking about the last sequence of events there,” Saleh said, “but I thought our guys were outstanding today. They deserved better.”