The New England Patriots were said to be desperate when they swapped late-round 2019 draft picks with the Cleveland Browns in exchange for WR Josh Gordon. After four games with the Patriots, Gordon has delivered a tangible impact — and potentially could be one of the biggest steals they’ve landed in some time.
Although he’s still developing a rapport with Tom Brady, Gordon delivered his best statistical game for New England in Sunday’s 38-31 win over the Chicago Bears with four catches for 100 yards.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick noted Gordon’s “couple big plays,” but it’s fair to say that three of his four grabs could be qualified as game changers.
“I’m excited to see where we’re going,” Brady said Monday on his weekly hit with WEEI radio.
Gordon’s first catch of the game Sunday, a 20-yarder on the final snap of the first quarter, helped stunt some of the Bears’ momentum early after they had turned the Patriots’ 7-0 lead into a 10-7 Bears advantage.
Brady had Gordon open on what would have been at least a 27-yard completion, but the ball — which hit his hands — was under-thrown. Should Gordon have come back for it? Was Brady to blame on the throw? This is a sign of that still-developing relationship. Gordon also had an illegal shift penalty levied against him three plays later.
But when the Patriots had to have a conversion on fourth-and-1 from the Chicago 42-yard line three plays after the penalty, Brady looked one place.
“Having a week of practice helped and able to just go and make a play,” Gordon said.
He was matched up in single coverage with CB Kyle Fuller but hauled in the huge 19-yarder for a first down, having his helmet knocked off in the process. The Patriots would finish the drive by retaking the lead at 21-17.
“I had it matched up on the one-on-one and he just went up and got it,” Brady said. “He made a great play. We are just going to keep developing our confidence in one another, and he's making great plays when I throw him the ball. Just got to keep doing it.”
Gordon’s 55-yard catch and run included a slip of a tackle attempt from Bears CB Prince Amukamara and barreling through a hit from S Eddie Jackson, putting the Patriots in business at the 1-yard line. The Patriots would score two plays later to cap a 96-yard drive, effectively putting the game out of reach at 38-24 with just under nine minutes left.
“It was an incredible play,” Brady said. “So we really needed that.”
Gordon appeared quite winded as he lumbered toward the goal line on the catch, unable to score himself. But the Patriots appear thrilled with their new weapon and everything he has done in a short amount of time to help diversify the offense.
“He’s a threat,” Patriots WR Julian Edelman said. “He goes down the field and makes plays. He's come in, and he's worked hard. I just want to say thanks to the league. It's pretty cool to have a guy like him and play with a dynamic player."
On a day in which the Patriots were down two offensive starters (TE Rob Gronkowski and RT Marcus Cannon) and lost a third (RB Sony Michel) on the first play of the second quarter, Gordon was the playmaker the Patriots needed Sunday. Michel might be out indefinitely with a knee injury, and Gronkowski’s back could be a season-long concern. If anything, Gordon’s role should continue to grow.
Gordon said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels indicated that he and others would have to step up with Gronkowski out, and the Patriots' new receiver took the challenge personally.
“I think we're prepared for it mentally, and we practiced different looks and different groupings and personnel [groupings] to offset that,” he said. “I think collectively as a group, we showed that we can hold our own without him, but we'll be glad to have him back.”
Gordon played 61 of the Patriots’ 64 snaps (95 percent) on offense on Sunday — as well as the final three of the game on defense as a deep safety while the Bears tried a late Hail Mary pass that almost worked. Gordon joined the team in Week 4, when he started and played 18 offensive snaps, which was 22 percent of the team’s total. In Weeks 5 and 6, Gordon’s snap percentage went up to 26 and 81, respectively. All signs indicate he’s now pretty much a full-time player even as the kinks are being worked out on the fly.
Edelman appeared to be taking a lighthearted shot at the NFL’s other 30 teams who chose not to take a chance on Gordon when he referenced thanking “the league.” Perhaps the Patriots are one of the few teams who can pull off this type of transformation, insulated with Brady, Belichick, Edelman and a host of accountable players and coaches to help keep Gordon on the straight and narrow after years of issues well before he ever came to the NFL.
And yet it’s still pretty remarkable that the Patriots landed him for as cheaply as they did, tantamount to a sixth-round pick in net value. Because of Gordon’s strange, suspension-plagued path through the league, he’s still considered a third-year player in terms of seasons accrued toward free agency. So that means New England can retain him as a former second-round supplemental pick with an original-round tender as a restricted free agent that might only cost the team something in the $2 million neighborhood next year if Gordon continues to impress and doesn’t fall back into any trouble.
But at the very least for this season, he has given the Patriots a shot in the arm offensively. In the first three games of the season prior to his arrival, the Patriots averaged 19 points and 202.3 passing yards per game. In four games with Gordon on the field, those numbers have gone up to 39.3 and 303.8.
“I think our confidence is growing and growing and growing,” Brady said on Monday, and it’s easy to see why he feels that way.