Antonio Brown has been called a lot of things in his 10-year NFL career. Pro Bowler (seven times). First-team All-Pro (four times). The game’s best receiver. An uncoverable playmaker.
You can add another description to the list: Team Killer.
Make that Teams Killer — plural.
Both the Raiders and Patriots believed the mercurial former Steelers receiver could be the dynamic playmaker on the perimeter who would be the final and most dangerous piece to their offensive puzzles. Both teams suffered losses on Sunday that, largely, happened for the same reason: Receivers could not get open against man coverage to make the big plays the teams needed to break through.
Brown was supposed to be that player, first for the Raiders, then for the Patriots. But after their feckless dalliances with a player who failed to stay on either roster because he couldn’t get his act together off the field, both teams are now reaping what they sowed for foolishly believing that Brown could check his ego at the door and conform to a winning team environment.
If the Raiders fail to make the playoffs, and if the Patriots don’t win another Super Bowl, you can blame Brown for that. And each team’s front office for ever thinking that might happen.
The Raiders have seen their postseason hopes dwindle to long-shot status after back-to-back losses to the Jets and, on Sunday, to the Chiefs 40-9. Oakland has scored a combined 12 points in those two defeats as they went 148 minutes, 15 seconds of game time between touchdowns from the second quarter of their 17-10 win over the Bengals on Nov. 17 to the fourth quarter Sunday against the Chiefs.
Meanwhile, in Houston, the Patriots yielded the AFC’s top seed to the Ravens as a result of their 28-22 loss to the Texans, a team New England had defeated eight straight times.
The Patriots are still 10-2 and have everything in front of them. But Tom Brady seemed resigned that it might be tough for the team to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles as he posted, for the first time in his 20-year career, a sub-100 passer rating for the seventh straight game.
“I think the expectations for our team often are at a very, very, very high level and I understand that,” Brady said on WEEI in Boston on Monday. “But at the same time I think there are realistic expectations with our circumstances, incorporating different elements and players and injuries. We’re just trying to do the best we can do.”
Both the Raiders and the Patriots are now facing lessened expectations due to the struggles of their offenses, particularly their passing attacks. Opponents are finding them easy to defend with man coverage. Both teams have only one player (tight end Darren Waller for the Raiders, Julian Edelman for the Patriots) who warrants double coverage from the opposition.
If they had another dangerous target, opposing defenses would have to carefully decide how to deploy their troops — and it would spread out the pass coverage, creating more space for others to operate.
That was supposed to be Brown for both teams. So much for that. Jon Gruden and Bill Belichick are now left holding the AB bag, with frustrated quarterbacks left looking for and needing answers.
Brady was clearly frustrated on Sunday throwing to two rookie receivers (N’Keal Harry, undrafted Jakobi Meyers) and an injured possession veteran (Mohamed Sanu).
Carr also showed clear signs of frustration in the loss to the Chiefs, as the impact of a punchless receiving corps was never more evident.
Against the Chiefs, Carr dropped back to pass 32 times. He completed one pass to a receiver (8 yards to Zay Jones) in the first three quarters and four for 34 yards on eight targets in the game.
That’s no way to keep pace with a team like the Chiefs. And it didn’t have anything to do with Carr being scared of throwing down the field.
Nine times Carr looked deep and then resorted to dumping the ball off when no one was open. Four times he yielded to pressure (two sacks) as he tried to buy time for receivers to get open. And on four occasions Carr, out of options and time, just threw the ball away.
That’s 17 times on 32 dropbacks (53 percent) where not having a receiver capable of winning against man coverage directly affected the performance of the Raiders’ passing offense.
Gruden continued to blame himself as the game-planner and play-caller, but you can only use the tools you have.
“I’ve got to do a better job,” he said Monday. “We’ve got to do a better job getting them better looks and getting them involved in the game, no question, Gruden said of his receiving corps. “So I put that on myself. I think we’ve got good, young receivers.”
Opposing defensive coordinators clearly don’t think so.
If the Raiders were dangerous on the outside, you’d see more zone coverage and space to throw into.
Not having rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow (injured) certainly hurt against the Chiefs. He’s supposed to win inside and has in recent weeks. But Tyrell Williams is a possession receiver, a good No. 2. Keelan Doss is another big-bodied possession type who was waived in August. Jones was dumped by the Bills, which invested a 2017 second-round pick in him.
It’s a punchless, pedestrian group. Brady is working with similar talent in New England.
Outside of the passing game, the Raiders played well enough to beat the Chiefs. The protection was outstanding, and the ground game with Josh Jacobs (6.1 yards per carry) was highly productive.
Even the Raiders’ shaky defense held Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in check. Sure, Carr’s two interceptions were killer. But the first was just a superlative play by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, and the second was a mistake by Carr —the kind that tends to happen when you’re trying to make a play out of frustration.
The Raiders were devoid of playmakers on Sunday and it cost them. Same thing happened to the Patriots in Houston.
Antonio Brown was supposed to be the difference-maker for both teams. After such disasters that Brown needed to be ostracized by both teams, they’re facing uphill climbs to meet their postseason expectations.
Teams Killer, indeed.
Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.
Josh Jacobs: Even with the Chiefs often dropping a safety into the box to stop him, Jacobs was able to make plays with a big help from the line.
Darren Waller: Every time the Chiefs foolishly left him in single coverage or against zone, Waller made them pay.
Maxx Crosby: Another four quarterback pressures and a few run stuffs, but he still needs to be better against the run.
Trevor Davis: The fumbled punt was a huge play and he needed to find a way to pick up that fourth down. No surprise he was released Monday.
Nicholas Morrow: Along with Tahir Whitehead, the linebackers allowed six catches on seven targets for 83 yards. Everyone targets them.
Tyrell Williams: Has to find a way to make plays in a game like this. His break on the second interception was not confident nor strong enough. Raiders need much more from him.