MIAMI GARDENS – This is a column in two parts. Part one is Josh Gordon, role model.
A year ago this Wednesday, the Patriots traded for Gordon. It was a Hail Mary throw by the team on a player who’d been suspended for two full seasons and was fresh off a chaotic summer in Cleveland which caused the Browns – the BROWNS – to finally throw up their hands and deal him out of town.
The Patriots needed him for their offense. But they didn’t need Gordon as much as he needed them to help him order his life.
They guarded him. They managed his interactions with the media. They put manpower and money into helping him get better. And when he slipped up, they didn’t abandon him even though they could have and nobody would have blamed them.
A year later? He appears to be living the best-case scenario that anyone who cared about him could have hoped for. He seems comfortable.
Standing at a podium in a cramped room at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday wearing all black, Gordon answered several questions conversationally and with far more than by-the-numbers insight.
Long gone is the guy we were only allowed to pose three questions to. He’s replaced by a person who seems transformed.
I couldn’t help but see the symmetry between his situation a year ago and Antonio Brown’s now.
Obviously, they aren’t mirror images of each other. The civil lawsuit filed last week by Brown’s former trainer is filled with reprehensible details which – if substantiated during this week’s NFL investigation – may make Brown’s stay in New England short.
But the fact is that Gordon came to the Patriots a broken toy given little hope for success. And even if he was suspended for the tail end of 2018, coming from where he was and accomplishing what he did for the period of time he was an active member of the team was a triumph.
After his time at the podium, I asked Gordon if he saw similarities between his situation then and Brown’s now.
“It’s relatable for me,” he acknowledged. “The guy came in under a certain amount of scrutiny regarding the past. I can relate to that. For Antonio, it’s tough to speak to that because what he’s going through is personal and it’s private and we keep things in the realm of football and personally talking about (ourselves).
“He’s a part of this family now,” Gordon continued. “The same way they treated me and embraced me and took me in, we’re going to show that same love and support to Antonio and give him all the opportunity he needs to access resources to just be there for him. Be a brother, be a friend, be a part of this family. As time goes on I think it will all clear itself up eventually."
There may be people who think there’s something unseemly about wrapping Brown in their embrace especially under the circumstances that emerged last week.
Maybe there are Patriots other than Josh Gordon thinking the same thing.
But Gordon – who, again, had circumstances wholly different than Brown’s – at least can speak to the fact that this team and organization has helped give him a shot at a life more manageable.
Gordon has done the rest by doing his best. And, in my opinion, it would be wrong to begrudge Gordon’s willingness to pay it back to Brown or any teammate by being at his service the way others were for him.
We can judge our asses off and we do relative to Brown. But being offended that Gordon would not judge and would instead choose to support is missing the development Gordon’s shown where he can stand as a positive example.
Now part two. Gordon giving the perspective to what we saw on the field from the Patriots offense Sunday with Brown in the mix.
“I don't think any of us had any doubts about AB's skillset,” said Gordon who caught two of the five passes he was targeted with for 19 yards. “I think it was just good for everybody to see it in an actual game. He continues to be who we expect him to be and that's a great wide receiver, a good football player.
“For us, it's a tremendous asset,” Gordon continued. “It takes a huge stress off of the offensive linemen, the running backs, everybody. There's no way you can pinpoint one facet of our offense to try to shut us down, as you see, as you just saw, it's pretty tough to try to contain us. With him, it's a huge help.”
The trickle-down effect of Brown’s presence means opposing defenses have to pick their poison. On the 20-yard touchdown pass to Brown, Miami sent extra attention at Gordon.
“They’re going to have to cover somebody,” he said. “You're either going to focus on him or focus on me. If they focus on me, as you saw, he was able to get the touchdown, and they focus on him, I'll come open or Julian (Edelman) or whoever the case may be. We prepare for all of that I think each week. Now defenses will get a good look to see what they could try to do and we'll scheme for that, as well.”
Brown’s workload was bigger than expected. So too were the routes he was asked to run which was pretty much a little of everything. It wasn’t perfect. Brown and Tom Brady had three plays in succession on which their thinking wasn’t in harmony and passes fell incomplete. But that will presumably go away after the two have more practice time together.
“Guys that are football smart just pick it up, some faster than others,” said Gordon. “He's one of those guys that's gifted in that area. He was able to come here and adapt on the fly and he's still learning, as we all are. But it just goes to show how much he really wants to be a part of this offense, how much he really wants to be here and contribute and how fast he did it. It was great to see him make that progress today.”
With just one ball and a sudden plethora of wideout talent, there will be times guys come free and don’t get the ball. That, in the past, has gotten Brown in a snit. Will he be willing to stand in line and wait his turn as the others do and trust Brady’s decision-making.
“Tom sees it all,” smiled Gordon. “He sees it is all. Even if he throws it somewhere else, he's like, ‘How was it back there?’ I’ll be like, ‘It was alright.’ He's like, ‘Yeah, I know. I saw you.’ He knows. (The key is to) just have faith and trust in Coach (Josh) McDaniels and him and Coach (Bill) Belichick. Our time will come. As long as we continue to work hard, we'll get a chance to make a play.”
Gordon needed a chance when he came here. He has – again, my opinion – made the most of it. We’ll see if Brown can follow suit.
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