Miami Dolphins

Antonio Brown, despite lingering lawsuit, makes quick impression against Dolphins

Antonio Brown, playing in his hometown despite a civil lawsuit lingering over him, made his presence known early in his New England Patriots debut.

The 31-year-old receiver, a seven-time Pro Bowler who is originally from Miami, caught four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown in the first half of New England’s 43-0 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. Brown also had a 5-yard run on a reverse and was targeted four more times in the second half without a catch.

Brown was active despite a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Miami by his former personal trainer accusing him of rape. The former gymnast alleged Brown sexually assaulted her on three separate occasions in 2017 and 2018.

Brown remained eligible to play, per NFL rules, because the accusations were made in a civil suit.

Brown did not speak to media following the game, which is a punishable offense by league rules. By the time reporters entered the locker room, Brown’s locker was cleared out and his name plate was removed.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered no comment on his decision to play Brown amid the lawsuit, alluding to his statements he made earlier in the week that Brown and his representatives denied the claim and that the Patriots are taking the situation seriously.

“I’m not going to say any more,” Belichick said.

The coach did, however, discuss Brown’s performance on the field, saying the receiver is “making progress” after being with the team for just a week.

Brown, who played at Miami Norland Senior High in Miami Gardens, signed with the Patriots on Monday after the Oakland Raiders released him Saturday. Brown, who was traded from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Raiders in March, never played a game for Oakland.

“We’ll take a look at it on film,” Belichick said. “It’s one week. There’s a lot of things we can work on, but it’s good to have him out there.”

Brown caught Tom Brady’s first three pass attempts for 36 yards on the Patriots’ opening offensive drive. The 10-play, 60-yard march down the field that ended with a 1-yard Sony Michel rushing touchdown.

“I just was trying to find the open guy, and he was snapping off some routes and did a great job,” Brady said. “So, it was good to find him.”

Belichick said the Patriots did not explicitly plan to target Brown early although it worked out that way.

“We run the offense,” Belichick said. “We throw the ball to the guy that’s open. I haven’t changed that in 20 years.”

At the end of the first half, Brady fired a 20-yard pass to Brown in the left corner of the end zone for the first passing touchdown of the game.

“I don’t think any of us had any doubts about AB’s skill set,” fellow wide receiver Josh Gordon said. “It was good to be able to actually see it in an actual game. He continues to be who we expect him to be, and that’s a great wide receiver. For us, it’s a tremendous asset. It takes huge stress off the offensive linemen, the running backs, everybody”

“You could tell he was comfortable, which is huge right away,” running back Rex Burkhead added. “I’m sure that the competitor he is will see some things he needs to improve upon, but it was definitely cool to see him go out there and do well.”

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.