Bucs receiver Antonio Brown exudes dominance, defiance in return to action

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Antonio Brown’s return to action following a 2½-month layoff segued from triumphant to defiant in short order Sunday.

Playing for the first time since sustaining a foot injury Oct. 14 at Philadelphia, the 33-year-old veteran quickly emerged as Tom Brady’s top target, finishing with a game-high 10 catches for 101 yards in the Bucs’ 32-6 romp at Bank of America Stadium.

But Brown was short with his answers about his performance, and even shorter about his recent three-game, NFL-imposed suspension for misrepresenting his vaccination status.

When asked about the zero-tolerance policy under which he signed last fall, and coach Bruce Arians’ willingness to give Brown another chance following the latest suspension, Brown interrupted the reporter’s question.

“Next question,” Brown said. “I just want to talk about this game. We don’t wanna waste no time with you guys writing...”

When pressed, Brown kept balking. “You guys, it’s all drama,” he added. “It’s all about football. We can talk about Carolina or I don’t want to talk to you guys.”

Brown, safety Mike Edwards and former Buc John Franklin III were suspended Dec. 2. The punishment was leveled following a Tampa Bay Times report that Brown obtained and utilized a fake vaccination card, according to his former live-in chef, Steven Ruiz.

Ruiz, who claimed Brown owed him $10,000, told the Times early last week he and Brown have resolved their financial dispute.

When asked Sunday if he ever wondered if he’d get another chance with the Bucs after the suspension, Brown remained evasive, saying, “I can’t control what people write or how people try to frame me, people try to bring me down.“

Prior to that terse media session, Brown spent the better part of three hours brandishing the very reasons the Bucs — and the Raiders and Patriots before them — remain willing to take on his excessive personal baggage.

With primary targets Mike Evans (hamstring), Chris Godwin (ACL) and Leonard Fournette (hamstring) sidelined, Brady targeted Brown on three of the game’s first six plays. While miscommunicating on a couple of early routes, the pair found the same wavelength in short order.

“When I watched him practicing this week I knew he was in great shape,” Arians said. “He was healthy and told me, ‘Whatever you need, I’m there.’”

On Tampa Bay’s second possession of the game, Brady found Brown for 4 yards on third and 2, leading to the Bucs’ first touchdown. On their next scoring drive, the pair connected for 19 yards on third and 13 near midfield.

And so it went. Brown’s 15 targets were one more than the rest of the team combined. Even Brady said he was surprised at Brown’s ability to play at such a high level for so many reps following a lengthy layoff.

“I know he’s been itching to get back out there and he’s just been putting himself in a position to succeed,” Brady said.

“Everyone’s happy when he’s out there making plays for us, and he does a great job for the quarterbacks, makes a lot of critical plays, a lot of tough catches. I had him on some other chances where I was going to him and he ran a good route but the ball just got knocked away.”

But in the end, it was Brown himself doing the deflecting, even about less controversial matters.

So what exactly was he dealing with physically? A foot ailment? Heel?

“It’s a lot of drama, a lot of drama that you guys create,” he said.

“A lot of drama that people (are) creating who want stuff from me, but that’s just a part of life. That’s a part of being in the position. I can’t control what people want from me, I can’t control what people write about me, I can’t control what people say about me.

“All I can do is get up every day and be the best person I can be, and I when get a chance to do my job, do my job the best way I can do it. And that’s what we had today.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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