FOXBORO – We’ve been talking a lot about chances.
Who gets them? Who deserves them? How many should a person get? What happens when you run out of them? What’s it take to kill a chance given?
Those questions have almost exclusively been relative to Antonio Brown. Nobody with the Patriots, save for a being known as “A PATRIOTS SPOKESPERSON” who said he/she/it/they felt “that it is best to move in a different direction at this time” has deemed it necessary to address them.
The Patriots could, of course.
Bill Belichick could easily say, “Look, we gave Antonio a chance because we believed it was what was best for our football team. Decisions he made while a part of the team resulted in us moving on from him. Specifically, the texts sent last Wednesday night. They were unacceptable. We moved on. There are players we’ve given chances to – and continue to – that do something with those chances. And we are happy to continue working with them.”
He could then direct everyone’s attention to Josh Gordon, who played his ass off on Sunday through a sore hip/back (my diagnosis) and injured fingers (plain to see). Gordon continues to reward the Patriots’ faith in him by being a damn inspiration on a weekly basis to anybody who’s battled addiction, anxiety and mental issues regardless of his recurrence last season that cost him the end of the year and most of training camp.
He could then direct everyone’s attention to Jamie Collins who, while nowhere near the same zip code as Gordon or Brown in terms of off-field issues, returned to the Patriots 30 months after being exiled to Cleveland and has arguably been the team’s best defender through three games.
Those are men who seized chances – in Gordon’s case, a second chance – in contrast to Brown who pissed his away then spent the early part of Sunday unleashing a torrent of tweets showing why he probably didn’t deserve one here in the first place.
Gordon and Collins are two of the myriad success stories the Patriots have helped players author over the years. Yeah, they’re good at football. That’s why they’re here. But they’ve also committed to growth which is something we’re all attempting to do even when we get knocked back.
After the Patriots’ drama-free, 30-14 win over the Jets, a few of us huddled at the locker of the team’s oracle, Matthew Slater and asked him to give perspective on what he’s seeing from those two teammates.
Asked first about Gordon, who caught six balls for 83 yards on 11 targets.
“We call that ‘War Daddy Deluxe’ ” said Slater. “He was out there taking hits, dislocating … I don’t know what he did to his finger but I’m assuming it wasn’t good. He showed a lot of toughness today.
“We’re happy that Josh is with us because that means that he’s doing well personally,” Slater also said. “We support him and it’s been tremendous to see him come back into this locker room, be embraced, dive right in, work hard, be selfless, keep his head down and just take things one day at a time. … You can’t help but smile seeing him out there running around the field doing what he loves to do. We’re really happy for him.”
Asked about Collins, who was traded away during the 2016 season when his play was dipping, Slater had this to say.
“He’s a man now. He’s got a family. He represents a lot of people. His wife. His little guy. And I think when you have a family it changes your perspective in life and it’s been a really good change for him. We’ve always had a great relationship but it’s really cool to see someone come in as a kid and now be a man. I think that’s the thing I enjoy most. It’s great to see him serve in that role.”
I asked Slater about the contrast in us talking about teammates striving for personal development. It struck me as ironic, especially after a week in which so much time was devoted to Brown, who just keeps on taking a flamethrower to every opportunity.
“It’s exciting (to see players develop),” Slater said. “To me, this is what it’s all about. It’s a relationship business and football has given me the platform to build a lot of great friendships and relationships through the years and to see personal have personal success in their personal lives it’s really rewarding.
“This game is temporary,” he added. “All of us have an expiration date but you want to see guys do well off the football field. You want to see guys excel in their personal lives as they lead their families, as they raise children and they develop roots and it’s really exciting to see those guys do as well as they’re doing.”
Collins was a wrecking ball for the third straight week on defense. After two picks last week, he had two sacks this week and another tackle for loss. He also added a pass defensed late in the game that could have been another pick.
“Dominating,” was defensive lineman Deatrich Wise’s response when asked about Collins. “That’s the word I’d use. There are no words for what he’s doing. He’s dominating games. The way he can read plays and make plays is like no other. When there’s a dominant player on the field, offenses are going to look for him and highlight him and that frees up players everywhere else to make plays. Once he gets on the field, he’s unstoppable.”
“It’s all come with growth,” Collins said when asked about his approach now in contrast to his first stint with the team beginning in 2013. “I’ve got 10 other guys out there are making my job much easier.”
Gordon, meanwhile, was asked about the physical toughness he showed battling through the knocks he took. He chalked his performance up to meeting the challenge with mental strength.
“I think the more important part is just like how many times can you get knocked down and come back?” he said. “That’s my mindset, that’s my attitude, no matter if it doesn’t take me out all the way where I can’t physically do it, I’m going to be back out there within a couple plays. If medically I’m approved to do so, I’m going to go back out no matter what it is that’s hurt me.”
Gordon’s been suspended for substance abuse issues several times. He was just reinstated by the NFL at the end of August after he was sidelined by the league after Week 15 last year. He has been, quite clearly, a person the NFL has tried hard to meet halfway in his recovery.
It was interesting to hear him mention the off-field battle as helping him on the field.
“I think that (toughness) translates from off the field, as well as on the field,” he said. “I think my life, the battle of perseverance is something that can show through, through my play and my mindset and how I attack the game.
“I think I’ve always been that way, just always having the mindset to not leave anything undone, not give it my best if I could do so,” he added. “Physically, I think I’ve always just kind of been a fighter in some type of way – was going to have to fight back, was going to be the underdog – and that’s my mindset when I step out there on the field and play each week.”
Chances given. Chances embraced. A welcome change at the end of a long week.
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