FOXBORO -- Josh Gordon hasn't had to be the engine lately. He hasn't had to be the one who makes the Patriots offense go. But he has been productive. He has opened things up for Tom Brady and his teammates when they've needed him.
It wasn't until late in the third quarter last week against the Vikings that he saw his first target, and not-so-coincidentally that's when the Patriots started to pull away.
Over his last two games, he's been used more sparingly than he was in his two games before that: Eight total targets in Weeks 12 and 13 after having 19 combined targets in Weeks 9 and 10. Against the Packers and Titans, he caught 47 percent of those targets. Against the Jets and Vikings, he caught 100 percent of the throws sent his way.
Gordon was asked Thursday what's been clicking for him lately.
"I think just remaining focused and locked in on what I want to get done and how I can contribute with my opportunities to do so," he said. "Really just making sure I capitalize when those times present themselves. Fortunately enough I've been able to catch the targets I've been given."
As the season has gone, Gordon explained, his conditioning has improved immensely. Even though his target share has gone down to make him more efficient in recent weeks, his snap counts remain high. The 48 snaps he played against Minnesota were the fewest he's played since seeing only 18 snaps in back-to-back weeks against the Dolphins and Chiefs.
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"He’s more comfortable," said Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who will see Gordon for the second time this weekend. "He knows the offense better than what he knew at that week. He seems like he’s healthy. I don’t know . . . I’m sure everybody in the NFL is banged up a little bit, but I know he was coming off an injury at that time. He’s a tough guy to defend. He can catch the ball at all levels. He can stretch the field. He can work underneath. He can win in the quick game. He makes some incredible catches. He’s a tough guy to deal with."
And he's tougher to deal with when he can stay on the field.
There have been times this season when he's had to come out of games because he's sprinted down the sideline and was winded. He was stopped short of a touchdown in Chicago when he ran out of steam on a long catch-and-run.
If he can finish strong -- as he did against the Vikings -- or stick it out for plays following long incompletions, it allows the Patriots to have one of their best weapons on the field for critical situations.
From his perspective, he's seen improvement as far as his wind goes.
"It's night and day," Gordon said of his conditioning now versus when he arrived to New England.
"Huge difference. [Head strength and conditioning] coach [Moses] Cabrera and the strength staff have been amazing. Patient with me. Helped me out through my injuries. Training staff as well. Bringing me along safe . . . I think I'm as good as I've been."
That's not standard this time of year. But the Patriots as a team are relatively healthy. They had only two players listed on their injury report Thursday -- Dwayne Allen (knee) and Patrick Chung (shoulder) -- and all 53 players on the active roster have been present for each of the first two practices this week.
They could use all hands on deck in Miami, where they've had their issues historically, and where the heat could tax their stamina and overall depth on game day.
Gordon has followed the plan to this point and been one of the team's most productive offensive players despite not spending any time with the Patriots through the offseason, OTAs or camp. Given where he is physically, he seemed confident he can continue on the right track in Miami despite the conditions.
"It's been awhile, I guess, since we played a hot game," Gordon said. "I think guys need to stay on top of being hydrated going into the weekend and continue to drink and hydrate the day before the day of the game. I think that's the best thing to do. Stay limber, stay loose."
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