Josh Gordon’s return changes everything for the Patriots and every team trying to stop them

by Jordy McElroy

The bombshell news of former All-Pro wideout Josh Gordon’s return to the New England Patriots was bittersweet for the other 31 teams in the NFL. Seeing a troubled, young player fighting to overcome his demons and getting his career back on track goes into the sweet column, while the bitterness arises from the now seemingly impossible task of stopping a Patriots offense with him in it.

The upcoming headaches induced from defending a receiving corps of Gordon, Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry and Demaryius Thomas should have opposing defensive coordinators popping Advil like Tic Tacs in 2019.

So much for the narrative of aging quarterback Tom Brady throwing to a depleted group of receivers. Gordon’s mere arrival has essentially taken the passing offense from the outhouse to the penthouse for the future Hall of Famer. What he was able to accomplish in such a short span of time in the Patriots offense last season was simply astonishing.

There have been stories of how the complexities of the playbook, along with the lofty demands from Brady, pushed even veteran receivers out the door. If you don’t know the playbook, Brady will ghost you. If you can’t get to your spot, Brady won’t even look in your direction. If you can’t read defenses through the eyes of the quarterback, Brady will send you a postcard from the Super Bowl when you’re playing somewhere else.

Everything the Patriots do is predicated on timing and an intricate knowledge of the playbook. Enter Gordon in Week 3 of the season in 2018, after being dumped off by the Cleveland Browns. By Week 4, he was already on the field making plays.  

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound former All-Pro wideout gives Brady a viable option to take the top off defenses, but he is also versatile enough to take bite-sized chunks in the slot, along with exploiting the seam.

Call him Josh Gronkowski.


Perhaps the player that should benefit most from Gordon’s presence (besides Brady) will be Harry, the rookie first-round draft pick out of Arizona State. The learning curve won’t be nearly as steep with him projecting as the No. 3 receiver behind Gordon and Edelman. Instead of drawing double coverages and the defense’s No. 1 corner, he’ll be flanked out wide on an island, one-on-one with lesser defenders.

“A Nightmare on Patriots Street” will be hitting theaters this fall, and it will feature defenses trying to slow down a Brady-led offense with multiple deep threats. Along with leaving Harry in single coverage situations, Gordon will also force defenders to play on their heels in fear of giving up the big play, which will open things up in the slot for Edelman to go to work, as well as facilitating the run game.

Attempting to stack the box would come at a serious risk with both Gordon and Harry on the field at the same time. That should leave plenty of room for the four-headed monster at running back—Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris— to eat early and often. There will also be plenty of opportunities for Chef Brady to cook up his specialty: The play-action pass.

The vaunted Chicago Bears defense got a heaping helping of it when facing the Patriots last season.

While there is hysteria and excitement overflow from Patriots fans, there is also the sobering reminder of the mental hurdles that await Gordon when he returns. The 28-year-old receiver should be on a top-dollar contract competing with the likes of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones for the title of best receiver in football. Yet, multiple failed drug tests have led to multiple suspensions and an alternative career path.

Gordon isn’t recognized for his talent as much as he’s recognized for his addiction problems, which has generated plenty of skepticism he’ll be able to stay on the straight and narrow. Reports out of Foxborough earlier in the month adamantly suggest the Patriots are preparing for life without Gordon on the field. He led all receivers on the team in 2018, including Edelman, with 720 receiving yards in only 11 games, before being handed an indefinite suspension for violating the terms of his reinstatement under the league’s drug policy.

Since being drafted by the Browns in 2012, he has only appeared in 16 games once in his NFL career.

“We are all rooting for Josh to succeed, both personally and professionally,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said through a statement, via NFL.com. “Everyone shares in that hope and will continue to support him to every extent possible. But as Josh acknowledged, ultimately his success is up to him.”

Gordon was phenomenal when picking the Patriots offense up on the fly last season. Imagine how great he could be after a full offseason of absorbing the playbook and a couple weeks of training camp to iron out the finer details. Brady has worked with him in the offseason in an effort to prepare for the moment they’d share the field again.

A great fortune for the Patriots might now lead to great misery for the rest of the league, as that magical quarterback and receiver combination teased a year ago will now return much sooner than anyone could have ever imagined. 

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