Rich Barnes/USA Today Sports

Is there a conspiracy behind false Josh Gordon benching report?

Alex Reimer
October 30, 2018 - 1:07 pm

It took nearly six weeks for the Josh Gordon era in New England to get a little weird. Hours before the Patriots and Bills got underway on Monday night, reliable Patriots mouthpiece Ian Rapoport tweeted Gordon was expected to be sidelined for one quarter due to tardiness.

Minutes later, the Athletic’s Jeff Howe, another steady pro-team source, added that Gordon showed up late Sunday before the team departed for Buffalo. The Boston Herald’s Kevin Duffy also tweeted he heard Gordon showed up late to a meeting this week.

But then, Gordon was on the field for the first snap of the Patriots’ 25-6 victory. Tom Brady targeted Gordon with his third throw of the game, a deep ball that was dropped. Gordon finished with four catches and 42 yards.

Belichick, predictably, did not provide any insight about the situation when he spoke to the press. Neither did Gordon. 

So what gives? There are plenty of conspiracy theories floating around, most of which paint Bill Belichick in a machiavellian light. And due to the secrecy of the Patriots’ organization, all of them appear to be plausible –– for those of us who spend our days tantalized over palace intrigue.

The most devious possibility is that Belichick relayed the false Gordon story to others in the organization so he could weed out moles. There have been lots of leaks coming out of Patriot Place over the last year, and maybe Belichick wants to reestablish control of the message. 

Former NFL executive and Belichick confidante Mike Lombardi appeared to entertain this notion on Twitter, writing “so much for the Gordon sitting out talk.” When a user replied that the story reeks of Belichick looking to mess with the media, Lombardi tweeted out a simple, “Hah.”

In addition to exposing the leaker(s) –– where do you think Belichick ever could’ve gotten that idea? –– spreading an incorrect rumor could further sow distrust in the NFL press corps to a fan base eager to dismiss all reports of internal turmoil as fake news. That’s the exact phrase Belichick used in an interview with “Dale & Holley” when he dismissed Seth Wickersham’s first expose about the Patriots last November. 

Outside of those scheming scenarios, it’s difficult to fathom why the Patriots would want to leak out negative information about Gordon, especially considering their reported activity in the wide receiver trade market. It would seemingly hurt the Patriots’ bargaining power if other teams knew Gordon’s behavior was becoming erratic once again.

So maybe the rumor came from outside the organization, which is what NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran tweeted when Gordon took the field. Leakers have motivations, and maybe somebody out there wants to hurt the Patriots’ standing on the trade market.

The possibility also exists that Gordon actually was late, and some misinformation got out there in an honest fashion. This is far less interesting than other theories, but is the easiest to conceptualize. The Patriots’ reported interest in expensive veteran wideouts such as Demaryius Thomas and Golden Tate illustrate they may not feel comfortable relying on Gordon the rest of the way. Brady, who’s been effusive in his praise of Gordon, was curiously more tempered in his commentary about Gordon’s performance against Buffalo on “Kirk & Callahan” Tuesday.

“It’s kind of a work in progress,” Brady said. “We’ve just got to stick with it. It’s a short period of time. I wouldn’t even say that many padded practices. But I have a lot of confidence in him. When I throw the football to him, he makes the play, and good things happen. It’s just figuring out how it fits in with all of the other things that we’re doing with the other players –– Julian (Edelman), (Chris Hogan), what their roles have been. But like I said, I can’t say enough good things about him and what he’s done to help us.”

While Gordon has been solid, his playbook still seems consolidated to slant routes, curls and go patterns. There have also been some notable low points, such as when he ran out of steam racing towards the end zone against the Bears last week.

Ocaam’s Razor says the most sensible explanation is often correct. On the field, Gordon took a step back this week, and the Patriots are reportedly looking to bring in more receivers. 

But then again, this is the Patriots, and it’s been a strange year. Other forces could be at work. That would be much more fun, anyway.