Antonio Brown laments 'drama' in his first game back, helps Buccaneers clinch NFC South

Safid Deen
USA TODAY Sports+

Antonio Brown made a statement his first game back from a suspension, both on the field and to reporters afterward.

Fresh off a 10-catch, 101-yard day helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinch their first NFC South title since 2007, Brown lashed out during his postgame news conference about “drama” he said is created by others.

"It's a lot of drama you guys create. A lot of drama people create who want stuff from me. That's a part of life, a part of being in the position. I can't control what people want from me, what people write about me,” Brown told reporters Sunday following the Buccaneers’ 32-6 win over the Carolina Panthers.

"I'm just here to do my job. I can't control what people write, how people try to frame me. People try to bring me down,” Brown continued. “Life is about obstacles and persevering and doing what's right ... I'm standing before you guys grateful, humble, thankful.”

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Antonio Brown returned Sunday after a three-game suspension.

Brown’s comments overshadowed a bounce-back performance by him and the Buccaneers, who competed without three key playmakers offensively while their defense held the opposition without a touchdown for a second consecutive game.

The Buccaneers played without leading receiver Chris Godwin, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. Second-leading receiver Mike Evans and starting running back Leonard Fournette both missed the game with hamstring injuries. All three players were injured during Tampa Bay’s loss to the New Orleans Saints Dec. 18.

Still, quarterback Tom Brady and the Buccaneers maintained their ground in the NFC playoff race.

“Well, I’m not taking anything for granted. Winning the division is hard to do, and we’ve earned it,” Brady said after clinching the 18th division title of his 22-year career. “We’re 11-4. It’s not the greatest record in the world, but it’s certainly not the worst either.

“So, 11-4, we’ll take it. We’ve lost some tough games and learned from each of those losses. But everything is ahead of us. We have to get to another win next week. That’d be huge for us. We have to finish these next two games really strong, and we’ll see how things stack up after that.”

While Brown had a standout day, tight end Rob Gronkowski caught only one pass for 23 yards.

Running back Ronald Jones had 65 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown, along with two catches for 16 yards. Backup tight end Cameron Brate caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Brady.

Fourth-string running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn broke free on a 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, aided by a downfield block from receiver Cyril Grayson Jr., who was called up from the practice squad before the game.

“When I was able to run down and give him such effort to help him get in the end zone, I felt like I scored,” said Grayson, who also caught a 62-yard pass to set up Brate’s touchdown. “That was really dope.”

Grayson’s block on Vaughn’s touchdown even caused Brady to run down the field and find Grayson in the end zone to congratulate him, while their teammates were celebrating the score.

“That was a great block. That’s why I was happy. It’s a team game. Nothing is accomplished without everyone doing their job,” Brady said. “That was a great effort by Cyril. It wouldn’t have scored without Cyril’s effort. That’s what great teams are all about. We have to fight for each other.”

The Buccaneers have two games left this season, on the road against the New York Jets next week, and the season finale at home Jan. 9 against the Panthers.

Their win allowed them to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers (12-3) and Dallas Cowboys (10-4) atop the NFC playoff standings.

But more important, the Buccaneers clinched a division title for the first time in 14 seasons.

Despite injuries that could hinder the their ability to repeat as Super Bowl champions this season, the division crown is an award they will celebrate proudly before turning the page to the rest of the season.

“We wanted to hang three banners this year and we didn’t have one of those division banners for a long time,” Arians said with hopes of also adding NFC title and Super Bowl banners this season. “Our guys did it today, and can’t be prouder of the group that did it today.”