Time for Josh Gordon to prove his worth

Andy Hart
October 08, 2019 - 6:49 am

Eight tumultuous years into his NFL career, Josh Gordon probably is what he is at this point.

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Well into his second season in New England, what exactly is that?

Through a 5-0 start to the Patriots season, Gordon ranks third on the team with 19 catches for 280 yards (14.7 avg.) with one touchdown.

Those are pretty pedestrian, lackluster numbers for a guy who once led the NFL with 1,696 yards in a mere 14 games in his lone Pro Bowl and All-Pro campaign in 2013 for the Browns.

That was a lifetime ago, though. That production came from a freakish athlete who earned the nickname the Flash.

Now, the 28-year-old Gordon appears to be a very different man, both on and off the field.

In many ways, the fact that Gordon is even playing in 2019 is a surprise. Suspended indefinitely by the NFL last December, the thought at the time was that his career might be over thanks to yet another misstep with the league’s policy on substance abuse.

But the receiver-needy Patriots got an absolute gift late this summer from Commissioner Roger Goodell when Gordon was reinstated to the New England roster.

There was training camp buzz that the Patriots were getting back one of the best receivers in the game at a moment of obvious need. That Gordon’s return would give Tom Brady one of the better receiving corps in football, one of the most talented groups of pass catchers he’s had.

That buzz was clearly both premature and utterly ill-informed.

Other than the one week in Miami with future Hall of Famer Antonio Brown temporarily in the mix, Brady’s targets have been an inconsistent bunch this fall. Beyond Julian Edelman -- who’s having a typical stellar season despite battling a chest injury – and James White, the guys Brady is throwing to look like a bunch of complementary role players unprepared for the positions they’ve been promoted to.

That’s fine and even expected for tight ends Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo, understandable for undrafted rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers and probably par for the course for Phillip Dorsett at this point in his five-year career as a second-tier target.

But Gordon? He’s supposed to be much more than what he’s been. Because what he’s been is an inefficient option on the outside who’s failed to create much separation, failed to catch the ball consistently, has looked gassed and out of shape at times in the second half of games and, simply, hasn’t been very impressive save for a couple highlight catches.

While the slot machine Edelman will always be his buddy Brady’s favorite weapon, Gordon is theoretically the more traditional No. 1 choice on the outside, a guy with the ability to make plays at all levels of the defense.

But through a month-plus he’s looked anything but a No. 1 receiver.

“I don’t know if we have No. 1s and No. 2s or numbers here. It’s a collective effort from everybody," Gordon said last week. "That is how the offense works here. I think it works, obviously. It’s a championship program. Adopt that culture, adopt that philosophy and play my role.”

Lately, though, the offense has been working far less efficiently, less impressively than everyone is used to. In the 16-10 win in Buffalo two weeks ago, with Gordon hauling in just three of the seven passes thrown his way against an impressive Bills defense, Brady sarcastically called his unit’s performance “riveting.”

After Sunday’s win in Washington, Brady chose his words slowly and wisely, eventually saying the offense “could be a lot better.”

Two areas for obvious improvement at this point are the offensive line – a group that’s working through the acclimation of two new starters, including a journeyman left tackle added to the roster after training camp – and the production from Gordon.

Now, in the midst of a short week of preparation for Thursday night’s battle with the Giants at Gillette Stadium, Gordon’s services might be needed more than ever. While dreams of trades for big names like A.J. Green, Emmanuel Sanders and Stefon Diggs make the media rounds, Gordon is the reality of the situation the Patriots are currently in.

Dorsett seems likely to miss Thursday’s game to a hamstring injury. Edelman has clearly been hampered by the chest injury and has less time to recover after his gutty 100-yard game against the Redskins. Brady seems and sounds less than enthused to turn to Meyers for increased production. The tight ends are what they are, especially after the team chose not to activate Ben Watson. And throwing to White too often – he’s been targeted 30 times in four games played – could have long term consequences and diminishing efficiency.

Nope, the obvious place to turn for an injection of life in the passing game is Gordon.

The only problem is that he may no longer be a player capable of doing more.

The legend of Gordon and his past production are one thing.

The reality of his current abilities and contributions are another.

If Gordon is anything more than complementary piece of the Patriots offensive puzzle at this point it’s time for him to prove it.

Related: What release of Benjamin Watson means for Patriots