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It had to be done.
Even for an organization as prestigious as the New England Patriots.
Even for a franchise so fiercely focused on winning.
Even after 11 days.
The Patriots had no choice but to release Antonio Brown — not because of some crisis of conscious behind closed doors. But because Brown left them no choice.
As serious allegations against the receiver continued to mount, the distractions reached untenable proportions.
No longer could New England ignore Brown's off-field behavior.
No longer could it disregard allegations of rape, sexual misconduct and potentially threatening behavior.
No longer could coach Bill Belichick pretend that "football questions" are all that matter right now.
The final straw was the "intimidating" text messages Brown reportedly sent a woman who said she endured unwelcome sexual advances from him in 2017. Those texts — which were sent by Brown in a group chat that included the woman and his lawyer, according to Sports Illustrated — included a picture of her children and orders for her to be investigated.
"We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days," the Patriots said in a statement Friday afternoon. "But we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time." But why did it even have to come to this?
Win at all costs.
That is the true Patriot Way.
A collective cockiness and an unwavering commitment to assembling a formidable Super Bowl roster led the organization here: to take an unnecessary chance on a mercurial, unpredictable and troubled player who forced his way out of Pittsburgh, burned his feet in a cryotherapy mishap, engaged in a feud with the NFL over an outdated helmet, missed practice time with the Raiders, got into a verbal altercation with Oakland general manager Mike Mayock and recorded a conversation between him and his former head coach Jon Gruden.
None of that was enough to give the Pats pause.
All they saw was a seven-time Pro Bowler.
All they saw was a four-time All Pro.
All they saw was a versatile pass-catching threat who could make an explosive offense unstoppable.
And they were right.
Brown — who was signed on Sept. 7, just three days before a different woman, his former trainer, Britney Taylor, said he raped her in May 2018 — caught four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' Week 2 blowout of the Miami Dolphins.
Five days later, Brown was released.
"Thanks for the opportunity appreciate @Patriots," he wrote. "The marathon continues."
The so-called "Patriot Way" was supposed to keep Brown in line. Keep him focused solely on football. Everyone assumed he'd adhere to the program, that he'd conduct himself as just another member of the 53. Just like quarterback Tom Brady. Meanwhile, Belichick thought he'd be able to steer the conversation toward football — just like on Friday morning, when he stormed out of a news conference after 3 1/2 minutes because there were too many questions about Brown and not enough inquiries about his next opponent: the New York Jets.
But Belichick brought this on himself.
The Patriots welcomed Brown and all of his baggage. For the sake of winning, they willingly allowed a troubled man to enter their inner sanctum. They forced their own players — Brady and veteran leaders, included — to answer questions daily about Brown and the circumstances that surround one of the league's most polarizing and problematic stars.
They tried to control the narrative with stern faces and clipped answers, but there was no escaping the drama that continue to follow Brown like an unrelenting smog. Belichick's latest news conference was proof of that.
A team that despises distraction allowed this never-ending saga to continue at its doorstep.
And all it took was 11 days for the Patriots to cut bait.
Not because they wanted to.
But because, in the end, Brown gave them no choice.
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