Antonio Brown walks out on Bucs, who rally to beat Jets
Midway through the third quarter Sunday, with the Bucs trailing the Jets by two touchdowns, Antonio Brown quit on his team. Brown, who had three catches for 26 yards, refused to go back into the game when asked to by coach Bruce Arians, saying his ankle was sore.

He then took off his jersey and shoulder pads on the bench as fellow receiver Mike Evans attempted to stop him. He tore off his undershirt and gloves, and threw them to the crowd. Flashing a peace-out sign, Brown ran toward the tunnel at MetLife Stadium and was briefly stopped by security guards who thought he was a fan. It could be the last image of Brown's turbulent NFL career.

Here's another picture to remember about the Bucs on Sunday: While Brown quit, they kept fighting. Tom Brady threw three touchdowns, including a 33-yard scoring pass to Cyril Grayson with 15 seconds left in the game, to lead the Bucs back to a 28-24 victory. After the game, Arians said Brown no longer is a Buc. "I'm not talking about him," Arians said. "He's not part of the Bucs."

Brown did not fly back to Tampa with the team. But Arians was happy to talk about Brady, whose final touchdown pass capped a 93-yard, nine-play drive that took 1:57 off the clock in the final 2:12. "We got Tom, and that's all you need," Arians said.

In a text message Sunday night to the Tampa Bay Times, Arians said he didn't know why Brown stripped down to his pants, socks and shoes, and walked off. "I was shocked and had enough," texted Arians, adding that he had never seen a player do that in his more than four decades of coaching.

It was Brady who had believed the Bucs needed Brown, so much so that he convinced the team to sign him last season following Brown's eight-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The ban stemmed from his January 2020 arrest when he was accused of attacking a moving-van driver at his Hollywood, Fla., home. He pleaded no contest to felony burglary with battery and two misdemeanor charges.

Arians, who had preached a zero-tolerance policy with Brown, stuck by him after the NFL suspended him for three games this season for misrepresenting his coronavirus vaccination status. Brown returned last Sunday and led the Bucs with 10 catches for 102 yards in an NFC South-clinching win at Carolina as Brady targeted him 15 times. After that game, Brown blamed the media for creating drama and said people had tried to "frame" him.

On Sunday, Brady said he was unaware of what had happened with Brown until after the game. "That's obviously a difficult situation," Brady said. "I think everybody should … hopefully 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 at his best, and 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."

When it comes to overcoming adversity and just plain weirdness, there had never been anything like Sunday's game for the Bucs. In addition to Brown's theatrics, cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean didn't arrive until a few minutes before kickoff.

Both were activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list but couldn't fly with the team Saturday. So the Bucs arranged a private charter flight for them Sunday morning that was delayed because the scheduled pilot tested positive and another had to be brought in.

Inclement weather forced the flight to be rerouted. By the time the two entered the game, the Bucs were trailing. The Jets' first drive ended with receiver Braxton Berrios scoring his first of two first-half touchdowns on a 1-yard run after running back Michael Carter took a direct snap and handed the ball to him on a reverse.

But Brady was at his best. He finished 34-of-50 for 410 yards. His first touchdown went to Evans on a fade route to tie the score at 7. Brady leaned on tight end Rob Gronkowski, who led the Bucs with seven catches for 115 yards. But the Bucs had trouble putting pressure on rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, who managed the game and didn't make any mistakes. The Jets led 24-10 midway through the third.

Already missing injured receiver Chris Godwin, the Bucs also lost running back Ronald Jones to an ankle injury and running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn left with bruised ribs. The Bucs were forced to turn to running back Le'Veon Bell, who was playing in only his second game since signing.

The Jets had a chance to put the game away late. But facing fourth and 2 at the Bucs 7-yard line with a little more than two minutes left, Wilson was stopped for no gain by linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. On the final drive, Brady went solely to wide receiver Tyler Johnson and Grayson, who entered the game with only four catches this season. He matched that on the final drive for 52 total yards. "A couple weeks ago, I asked Tom about Cyril, and he said, ‘Man, I trust him. I really trust him. Put him in there,' " Arians said.

Grayson was physically and emotionally drained after the game: "I also played a lot of special teams, so my legs were kind of dead, so it was … whatever we needed to do to win."

By the time the Bucs reached their locker room, Brown had dressed, left and been picked up by Uber driver Danny Chalet, who posted a video on social media. Brown had a parting shot on Instagram with a picture of himself holding a ball aloft after a reception Sunday. It read: "ab Big MAD (Making a Difference). Thanks for the opportunity."

Rick Stroud, The Tampa Times, published 3 January 2022