The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were unable to repeat as Super Bowl champions, as they fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round. The Bucs were hurting on the offensive side of the ball in the postseason, as Tom Brady was working behind a banged-up offensive line, Chris Godwin was out for the year with a torn ACL and Antonio Brown decided to quit the team right before the playoffs.
It was one of the highlights or lowlights of the 2021 NFL season, as Brown took off his pads and jersey midgame against the New York Jets in Week 17, and ran off the field while exciting the fans in attendance. Recently, Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans revisited that wild Sunday with Yahoo Sports, and he said Brown was wanting the ball before his dramatic exit.
"What I remember is we were trying to get him to come back in the game," said Evans. "He was saying he wanted the rock, and I mean rightfully so, we should have got him the rock -- I mean he's an unbelievable player. Like 'Yo, come in the game AB.'"
Both Evans and Brown were on a pitch count since they were coming back from injuries, and the coaching staff was trying to get Brown to return to the game. Evans went in for his reps, and then came back to the sideline to see Brown still agitated.
"I see (Bruce Arians) is still trying to get him to come in the game, and they had a falling out somehow and AB goes off and he's about to take his pads off," said Evans.
Evans then recounted he went up to Brown and urged him to keep his cool.
"I don't want him to go out like this," Evans said. "Obviously we need him, so I'm telling him 'Big bro we need you. The season is almost over. If you don't want to be here, then next year you can leave.'
"I'm telling him, 'Please don't go out like this.'"
"I mean it was unfortunate," said Evans. "I didn't know that it was going to go down like that. I thought we had a chance to go to the playoffs and probably repeat, and he would have definitely helped us."
Evans bringing up Brown wanting the "rock" is interesting, since it's something head coach Bruce Arians also told reporters when Brown was released. He claimed that Brown was very upset at halftime, and it had to do with who was getting targeted in the passing game. Brown was asked about this during an interview on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryan Gumbel," and he said the claim was false.
"It's not worrying about the ball," said Brown. "Tom Brady is my guy, he's the reason I'm on Tampa Bay so I know I'm going to get the ball."
Brown's exit was probably due to a combination of different factors, and how his ankle injury was handled was certainly a primary one. However, it sounds like the pitch count and target share could have been an issue as well.