Antonio Brown's first TD as a Buc arrives at opportune moment
For more than a month, a fan base had been waiting on Tampa Bay's most polarizing player to make a difference. Did Antonio Brown have any big plays still nestled in the extensive baggage he brought to the franchise? Through his first five games as a Buc, Brown had been targeted steadily (34 times) and had produced decently (25 receptions), but still hadn't made a catch of consequence.

That changed Sunday. With one stirring Tom Brady spiral, the narrative on Brown shifted for an afternoon, from controversial to clutch. "It was good for him," coach Bruce Arians said. "And good for all of us."

Brown's 46-yard scoring catch - on a simple go route - with 6:19 remaining lifted the Bucs (9-5) to a 31-27 triumph against the Falcons (4-10). Upon reaching the end zone, Brown, who hadn't scored in the NFL since his one-game stint with the Patriots two Septembers ago, fell to his knees and raised his arms skyward.

"It's been a long journey for me," said Brown, who finished with five catches for 93 yards. "Any time I get that opportunity, (I'm) always grateful (and) thankful to God. As soon as I caught it, I went straight to my knees and called God and gave praise."

Considering the off-field issues that preceded Brown's arrival to Tampa, and the legal proceedings still awaiting him, few would call the play redemptive. Rewarding, however, is another story. Count Brady among those who stuck their neck out for Brown, lobbying the Bucs to sign him (at a bargain-basement deal) as potentially the final offensive cog in a Super Bowl push.

"Obviously as a teammate (and) someone who knows him pretty well, he's done a lot of work to get to this point," said Brady, who welcomed Brown into his palatial Davis Islands rental when the receiver first moved into town. Just proud of him, his focus (and) how he's prioritized different things. A lot of guys in that receiver group have helped him, and he's making great contributions. As quarterback, it's tough sometimes because you have a lot of guys open and you've got to distribute it to different guys."

The distribution on the decisive game-winner was a pick-your-poison dilemma for the Falcons, Arians explained. It called for go routes by Brown, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and had worked on a completion to Godwin earlier in the game. On the play, Brown lined up in the slot before Godwin — the wideout — motioned inside him. That essentially left Brown one-on-one with cornerback Tyler Hall. Brown dashed right past him. "You know you'll get an opportunity when they call all go routes, so there's a chance the ball will come to you," Brown said. "Just run in the wind. I was excited to get an opportunity if it came to me, step on the gas and put myself in a good opportunity to put my eyes back, hoping the ball was on the way."

Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times, published 21 December 2020