Striking defiant tone, Bruce Arians welcomes Antonio Brown back from suspension

The 69-year-old Bucs coach doesn’t care about public perception, as he expressed Monday in no uncertain terms.
Bucs receiver Antonio Brown, who hasn't appeared in a game in more than two months, could log extensive action Sunday against the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C.
Bucs receiver Antonio Brown, who hasn't appeared in a game in more than two months, could log extensive action Sunday against the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Dec. 20, 2021|Updated Dec. 21, 2021

With his leading receiver sidelined for the season, injuries to other key contributors and a foundering kicking game, Bucs coach Bruce Arians has myriad concerns these days.

Public perception over his decision to let volatile veteran receiver Antonio Brown rejoin the team isn’t one of them.

“I could give a s--t what (people) think,” the 69-year-old Bucs coach said during his weekly media Zoom session Monday. “The only thing I care about is this football team and what’s best for us.”

Brown and safety Mike Edwards are being welcomed back this week following their three-game suspension for misrepresenting their vaccination status. Brown’s return coincided with the news that top receiver Chris Godwin tore his right ACL in the first half of Sunday night’s 9-0 loss to the Saints and is out for the season.

Three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans exited the same contest with a hamstring injury, the extent of which remains unclear. Providing initial replenishment will be Brown, who was completing an eight-game suspension at the time of his signing last October for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.

At that time, Arians indicated Brown would be subject to a zero-tolerance policy with the Bucs. In eight regular season games, Brown had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He added two postseason TDs.

“The history has changed since that statement,” Arians said Monday. “A lot of things went on last year that I was very proud of him, and I made a decision that this was best for our football team.”

Still, an attempted breach of the league’s COVID-19 protocols seemingly would’ve struck a sensitive nerve with Arians. As a two-time cancer survivor, he was in the pandemic’s high-risk group prior to the availability of vaccines and still has 83-year-old offensive assistant Tom Moore on his staff.

Moreover, Brown was placed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list on Sept. 22, more than two months before his latest suspension.

Was Arians willing to look past that?

“I’m fine,” he said Monday.

As a result, Brown, who hasn’t played since Oct. 14 due to lingering foot and heel issues, could log extensive action Sunday at Carolina, especially with Godwin out and Evans’ status uncertain.

“We’ll wait and see at Wednesday, Thursday practice, see how much (Brown) can do,” Arians said. “Hopefully we can get 30-35 plays out of him.”

Brady named to another Pro Bowl

Five Pro Bowl selections were revealed early and quarterback Tom Brady was picked for a record 15th time. He had been tied at 14 with tight end Tony Gonzalez, quarterback Peyton Manning, offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and defensive tackle Merlin Olsen.

The rest of the roster will be announced at 8 p.m. Wednesday on the NFL Network. Las Vegas will host this year’s all-star game Feb. 6 at Allegiant Stadium.

Brady, who leads the league in passing yards (4,348) and passing touchdowns (36), was joined by Rams defensive end Aaron Donald, Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce on Monday.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

Related: Antonio Brown reaches settlement with former live-in chef

• • •

Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.

Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.