I hope that some of you are planning to go somewhere fun (safely, of course) and do something traditionally associated with July 4th this week, as I, for the first time ever, won’t be spending it anywhere near the ocean. So I demand that all of you celebrate in my stead. This won’t be the most enjoyable 4th of July weekend, for a million different reasons, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t cause to appreciate the little things in some capacity.
Like this countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2019, for example.
The list so far:
20. The Patriots draft N’Keal Harry.
19. The Patriots trade for Mohammed Sanu.
18. Josh Gordon breaks three tackles to score the first Patriots touchdown of the 2019 season.
17. The kicker carousel.
16. A Kyle van Noy scoop and score ices the game against the New York Giants.
15. The refs screw the Pats out of not one, but two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs.
14. The Patriots play the Jets twice - and the defense shuts them out twice.
13. The Patriots force four interceptions as they dominate the Cincinnati Bengals and secure a playoff spot.
12. Julian Edelman hits Philip Dorsett in the end zone to help lift the Patriots over the Eagles.
11. N’Keal Harry scores his first NFL touchdown with a back shoulder grab against the Dallas Cowboys.
10. The Patriots force three turnovers on three straight plays against the Cleveland Browns.
9. Tom Brady becomes the 2nd All-Time passing yards leader in a Week 6 win over the New York Giants.
At Number 8, probably the biggest case of what could have been in Patriots history.
8. The Patriots sign Antonio Brown.
It’s tough to remember exactly when the Antonio Brown saga began; the rumblings of how he was unhappy in Pittsburgh started not too long after the Steelers drafted him. Nobody really put too much weight in at first, as diva receivers are always unhappy with the reps they see or plays they’re involved in or any other number of gripes...but in 2018, things really came to a boil in Pittsburgh. Brown allegedly got into a heated argument with Ben Roethlisberger late in the 2018 season which led to his benching in a Week 17 game against the Bengals, and his dissatisfaction with the team had reached the point where he demanded a trade.
Brown was one of the best receivers in football, so nobody was sure if the Steelers were going to give him what he wanted...but in March of 2019, Antonio Brown officially became a Raider in exchange for a third and fifth round pick. He seemed incredibly excited to join the silver and black, and everything seemed just fine...for exactly four months. In August, Brown began to go completely off the rails, from posting pictures of his frostbitten feet to filing a grievance with the league to wear his own helmet to blowing up in practice and then apologizing for it. He just seemed to be all over the place, and nobody really knew what to think. Still, he was just too talented a player, and the Raiders had surrendered draft capital for him, so nobody thought he’d be playing anywhere but in Oakland in 2019.
Until, that is, the Raiders voided the guaranteed money on his contract, citing behavior detrimental as their reasoning, and Brown requested his release from the team. Mere hours before his 2019 salary would become guaranteed, he was in fact released, and just like that, one of the NFL’s premiere players was a free agent.
Enter the Patriots.
One of the biggest question marks for the Pats coming into the 2019 season was their depth at receiver. Julian Edelman would be back, sure, and 1st round pick N’Keal Harry carried with him phenomenal physical tools and great potential...but Josh Gordon couldn’t stay off the weed, Gronk had just retired, Chris Hogan had departed for Carolina, and Cordarrelle Patterson was now with Chicago. That meant that the Patriots were getting ready to enter into the 2019 season with Edelman - and a whole bunch of unknowns. Coming off a championship the year before, the “Brady has no weapons!” crowd was screaming louder than ever.
However, just hours after his release, the internet exploded. Antonio Brown was officially a member of the New England Patriots. Brown had signed a one year deal worth up to $15 million, including a $9 million signing bonus, and all of a sudden the Patriots offense was incredibly dangerous again. New England went from nobody to Edelman, Gordon, Harry, Brown, and the best receiving back in the game in James White. Brown practiced with the team in preparation for their Week 2 matchup against the Dolphins, and he made an immediate impact; he hauled in four passes for 56 yards and a score on the day. Tommy B and Brown found chemistry almost immediately, and New England seemed poised to make another serious title run.
Unfortunately, that four catch, 56 yard outing would represent the last game that Antonio Brown would play for the Patriots. Amid a sexual assault allegation, Brown sent several threatening and intimidating texts to his accuser, at which point he was cut by the team. He has yet to play another down for any other team in the league.
It became very obvious very quickly that Antonio Brown has some mental health issues that for sure need addressing, and here’s hoping he’s making good progress in that. And if he couldn’t toe the line in New England, he wasn’t going to be able to do so anywhere. The team took a gamble in signing him, and it didn’t pay off; in fact, the offense never really got going at all after losing Brown (losing Josh Gordon a few weeks later certainly didn’t help matters) and had to lean heavily on the defense going forward.
Ranking the Antonio Brown signing this high might seem like a bit of a head scratcher, especially given how little he played for the team...but I’ll invite you all to think back to last September when this news broke. The excitement. The anticipation. The potential that this team suddenly had. And then the immediate contribution in an absolute blowout over the Phins, down in Miami where the Patriots usually lose. The Brown signing was one of the most exciting things to happen to this team in what was a very lackluster year. Furthermore, if Brown had actually worked out, I can guarantee you that this season would have gone differently. The Patriots may not have repeated as Super Bowl champs, but we wouldn’t all be sitting here reflecting on how much the offense struggled and how many times they stalled in the red zone. For better or worse, it was a defining moment of the 2019 season, and one that will always leave us wondering what could have been. This is also one of those perennial bar conversations that we’ll all be having years from now - “hey, remember when Antonio Brown played for the Patriots for like one game?” Because of that lasting impact of the signing, I think inside the Top 10 is more than fair.
If you have an extra minute and fifteen seconds to spare, you can watch the entirety of Antonio Brown’s career Patriot highlight reel here.