Antonio Brown is set to make his debut for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a spotlight game this weekend against the Bucs’ primary NFC South rivals, the New Orleans Saints.
At 6-2, the Bucs can stretch their divisional lead with a win over the Saints (5-2). More important, losing the game will put them behind the 8-ball in the same race since the Saints already won the first head-to-head matchup in Week 1.
Given the way the Bucs’ passing attack struggled in that game — Brady threw two picks, including a horrific pick six — I suspect the looming specter of this matchup was one of the primary reasons Tampa Bay signed Brown, a superb talent with a Hall of Fame resume who nevertheless has proven to be an immense distraction in his past three NFL stops due to his off-field behavior. His return to the NFL comes after serving an eight-game suspension.
So what would make Tampa Bay — a legit Super Bowl contender, even without Brown — roll the dice on this mercurial talent? Well, they’re hoping that Tom Brady’s relationship with Brown, who is reportedly living with Brady, will limit potential problems. And as cynical as it is to say it, again, they need to beat the Saints.
After reviewing the tape of the last time Brady and Brown suited up together as teammates in New England last season, I’m certain the 32-year-old Brown can help them do that.
As explained in the latest edition of the Yahoo Sports original web series “Check the Tape” — which is expertly stitched together by my main man Ron Schiltz — Brady and Brown displayed an immense amount of chemistry in that game, in which Brown caught four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. Brady himself outlines some examples in the video, so I encourage you to watch.
If you’re still wondering why the Bucs would risk the potential headaches that come with Brown, Bucs coach Bruce Arians basically told you why they did it when asked what makes Brown special, despite his diminutive size (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) and good, but not elite speed (he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the 2010 scouting combine).
“He just makes big-man catches,” Arians said. “He has unbelievable hands, great body control, he can separate extremely quickly on anybody that’s trying to cover him and he’s a great run after the catch guy because he can catch really well and you don’t have to think about it. He’ll take short ones and take them deep. He’s got great work habits, and I think when you watch him play, he plays bigger than he is [and] he plays faster than he is.”
The trick, of course, is making sure Brown stays on the field. And when asked what he can do to help Brown succeed on and off the field, Arians — quite sternly, actually — made it clear that the staff won’t hold Brown’s hand.
“He has to handle his own business off the field,” Arians said. “On the field, find your role, embrace it, accept it and make the right plays and we’ll get you the ball.”
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