Antonio Brown is a risk-free luxury for the New England Patriots - that is what makes them the perfect match

Alex Finnis
The Telegraph
Antonio Brown is signing with the New England Patriots after a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders - AP
Antonio Brown is signing with the New England Patriots after a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders - AP

Ominous. That's the word anyone who is not a New England Patriots fans would use to describe the first Sunday Night Football of the 2019 NFL season, after the Pats blew out the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-3 in prime time. New England were dominant from the first snap. Pittsburgh - perennially competitive, rarely steamrolled - were never in it.

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Like an intricate piece of machinery, it normally takes the Patriots a bit of time to whir into gear and take their inevitable vice-like grip on a season. They lost two of their first three last year, and two of their first four the season before. Hopeful whispers about the end of a dynasty and of a new era - finally - of fresh blood at the top begin to bubble up over the surface. Then New England trample those whispers into the mud and bulldoze their way to the Super Bowl. 

Not so this season - the Patriots' opening display was the most impressive of any team in the league. The defense looked scarily good in completely shutting down Ben Roethlisberger and the offense shepherded the ball up and down the field with total ease. The Steelers defense had no answers as New England consistently moved the chains.

Tom Brady and Julian Edelman's relationship is well documented, not least by February's Super Bowl victory over the Rams, but on Sunday night Edelman was just one of four receivers to go over 50 yards. James White was his usual, reliable self out of the backfield, but it was with the deep ball to Phillip Dorsett and Josh Gordon, both of whom found the end zone on 40-yard+ scores, that Brady really flourished. He averaged 14.2 yards per attempt against the Steelers, where normally he is closer to 12.

And now they're tossing Antonio Brown into the mix. Brown who, amongst all the drama, is probably still the most talented and productive wide receiver in the NFL today, and one of the very best of all time. A player who has gone over 1,200 yards receiving in each of the last six seasons, and is coming off a career high 15 touchdowns, but has been rendered almost unsignable thanks to a long string of bizarre and disruptive incidents off the field.

<span>Josh Gordon finds the end zone for a 44-yard score against the Pittsburgh Steelers</span> <span>Credit: USA Today </span>
Josh Gordon finds the end zone for a 44-yard score against the Pittsburgh Steelers Credit: USA Today

The Patriots' display last night showed exactly why New England was the only genuinely viable landing spot for AB - because they don't actually need him. They never have needed elite wideouts to succeed. To any other team, Brown is immediately the central figure. Either a season saver or a roster destroyer. To the Pats he is simply a wildcard with outrageous upside who they can cast back into the fog if things go south. Two decades of sustained success earn you the right to take a punt on a player like Antonio Brown.

Saying no man is bigger than the team is nonsense. The world's biggest sport stars have far more draw than their clubs in the modern day. But no man is bigger than Bill Belichick's Patriots - not even Brady, and certainly not Brown. Brown's spectre will haunt the Oakland Raiders for the duration of the season, but if the Patriots decide he is not worth the hassle and cut him in a matter of weeks his name board will simply be removed from the dressing room, his aura will be sucked up in a vacuum cleaner and his presence will be forgotten. Business as usual. The Patriot Way.

The Patriots were happy to take a risk on AB because to them he is not a risk, whereas the reward is astronomical. If the deep ball is being thrown back into Brady's arsenal in as big a way, as Sunday night suggested, and if a modest receiver like Dorsett was able to use it to torch one of the league's stronger defenses, just imagine what will happen when Brown is galloping after those bombs.

If Brady's relationship with Edelman - a receiver who excels working the intermediate distances and picking up chunk gains - is so fruitful, just think what he could achieve with Brown, who succeeds more than anyone in those types of spaces. Brady has said he is "one million per cent in" on Brown's move to New England, even offering to let him live at his house while he finds his feet. It's easy to see why. Brady to Brown could become the new Brady to Moss. This could be one of the most devastating QB-receiver partnerships the NFL has ever seen. 

We may never know the truth behind how Brown ended up in New England - to what extent he orchestrated the entire scenario from the very beginning - but what we do know is this now has the potential to be the most potent receiver corps Brady has ever had at his disposal. It is fragile - both Brown and Gordon may be just a single mistake away from being done in the NFL for good - but if it comes off it's hard to see who could stop the Patriots from cantering to a seventh Super Bowl title.

If it doesn't? Well they'll be just fine without him. That's how the Patriots work.

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