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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) gestures to the crowd as he leaves the field while his team's offense is on the field against the New York Jets during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. Brown left the game and did not return. (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP)

It can be easy not to like Tom Brady. For starters, the Tampa Bay quarterback is too dang handsome; especially to be 44 years old with more than 20 seasons of NFL hard knocks. Beyond that, he's married to a super model. Their children look like something out of a Pottery Barn for Kids catalogue.

Then, of course, there are all those Super Bowl rings he's won as both a New England Patriot (6) and a Buccaneer (1). For those of us who used to debate who was better — Brady or Peyton Manning — that jewelry collection kind of ended any and all arguments, painful though that may be.

But as easy as it is to be envious of Brady as he attempts to lead the Bucs to a second straight Super Bowl crown, his defense of the seemingly indefensible behavior of now former Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown is something to both admire and respect, even if you don't totally agree with it.

If you somehow missed it, the immensely gifted yet troubled Brown tore off his jersey and football pads above the waist, threw his undershirt and gloves into the stands at the New York Jets' MetLife Stadium on Sunday during the game, then stormed off the field before taking a limo from the stadium.

As soon as the game ended, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians understandably declared that Brown was no longer a Buc. And Brown shouldn't be a Buc, or a New England Patriot, or a Pittsburgh Steeler, or a Las Vegas Raider, which were other franchises who once employed him.

To that point, if he weren't so ridiculously talented with a football in his hands during those increasingly rare times he's been able to keep his ego and emotions in check, he would have been drummed out of the league years ago, and deservedly so.

But we overlook a lot in this country, if not the whole world, when it comes to talent and production. If you can make somebody a lot of money with your talent, they can make a lot of your shortcomings disappear.

So the fact that he was apparently a bad teammate during his best years in Pittsburgh was overlooked by the Raiders. Unfortunately for the Silver and Black, Brown didn't like the helmet they assigned him, so they released him. Accusations that he sexually assaulted his personal trainer after New England took a flier on him ended that gig almost before it began. He's also had a few run-ins with police.

Yet because Brady knew Brown's talent, and thought he knew his character well enough to vouch for him after Brady signed with Tampa Bay, the Bucs brought him aboard despite Arians calling Brown a "diva" and not a "good fit" prior to the organization signing him.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, left, throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Munson)

And you can say it all worked out a year ago as Brady had hoped, if not promised, it would. Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl over Kansas City. Brown caught a touchdown in that win. Everybody was seemingly happy, and just a week ago, Brown caught 10 balls for 101 yards against Carolina.

But then came Sunday, and an outburst out of nowhere to end all outbursts. You can apparently assault women, challenge police, mistreat teammates and all will be forgiven if you're catching touchdowns. But walk out in the middle of a game and your NFL career is finished.

So having embarrassed and infuriated every franchise and individual who's tried to help him, including Brady, Brown's career would seem to be done, along with any chance to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though his career numbers to date — 928 catches, 12,291 total yards, 83 TDs — justify him being there.

And you can easily say Brown is a self-centered and selfish egomaniac who deserves whatever fate now befalls him. Brady would certainly be justified in taking that stance, since he's the guy who most went to bat for Brown with the Bucs when Arians clearly wasn't sold on him.

But that's not what Brady did late Sunday afternoon. He instead said this: "I think everybody should hopefully do what they can to help him in ways that he really needs it. We all love him. We care about him deeply. We want to see him be at his best. Unfortunately, it won't be with our team. (But) I think everyone should be very compassionate and empathetic with some difficult things that are happening."

A cynic might reasonably argue that Brady was merely trying to make himself look good, that Brown has mental health issues that need addressing, which means he's not a bad egg because Brady would never go to bat for a bad egg.

But Brown also left close to $1 million on the table by walking out on his team and failing to reach bonus clauses he might have met by that game's end. He's thrown away millions, maybe close to $100 million in recent years by continued irrational behavior.

Maybe he really is just a jerk, and a stupid one at that. But only a fool would say Brown absolutely, positively has no mental health issues. Especially when Johns Hopkins estimates that 26 percent of Americans have at least one mental health issue in any given year.

"We all need mental help," Brown told ESPN less than two years ago. "From our friends, from the people we hang around, from the people we consult with every day. I'm like an animal in a cage. Everyone just talks about me. I can't go out my house in the private. Everything I do is in the face of people, face of someone talking, someone making an assumption about me."

Make of that what you will. But also know that while the rest of the world is making numerous assumptions about Brown after his Sunday tirade, Brady at least sounded like the friend Brown needs now more than ever.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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