We'd kicked around the Patriots' loss in Pittsburgh for a good 40 hours or so before we understood why Josh Gordon wasn't on the field for the final play.
The team's leading receiver and one of its best athletes -- his jump-ball ability was thought of highly enough by the coaching staff that he was on the Patriots Hail Mary defense in Week 7 in Chicago -- Gordon jogged off the field during a Steelers timeout just before Tom Brady's final heave into the end zone at Heinz Field.
After the game, Bill Belichick said the reason Gordon wasn't out there was because the Patriots had opted for Cordarrelle Patterson instead.
But why? Gordon had played in 58 snaps to that point in the game. Patterson had played in four.
It would make sense to have Patterson on the field in that spot due to his size and strength. He's a fine candidate to make an acrobatic catch in a desperate situation. But so is Gordon, making the one-for-one swap a curious one.
Gordon wasn't made available to reporters after the game, but Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels indicated that Gordon's removal from the game was due to fatigue.
"We had just kind of run quite a few plays in a row," McDaniels said. "I know there was a timeout there before that. Both of those guys have worked at that spot and in that type of a situation based on what we were doing. We just made the choice to go with CP at that point.
"No ulterior motive on that at all. Just put a fresh guy in to go ahead and do something on the last play to see if we could get into the end zone. It is what it is."
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Gordon was on the field for the two previous plays in the game, lobs to Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on both second- and third-and-15 from the Steelers 21-yard line.
The two targets Gordon saw in the game were the fewest he's seen since his first game with the Patriots back in Week 4. After he dropped a third-down throw early in the third quarter, Brady didn't throw his way again.
Part of that was due to the Steelers defense. We counted 13 snaps of the 36 snaps in which Gordon ran routes -- against both man and zone coverage -- that there were multiple defenders either in his area or paying attention to him. It wasn't the same level of attention paid to Gronkowski (20 of 33 routes where the Steelers had a defender over the top of him, two defenders in his area, or outright doubled him), but it was significant.
Part of Gordon's lack of production, though, seemed to be Brady's desire to look elsewhere with the football -- particularly late. Gordon was was checked by one defender seven times on the final drive and wasn't targeted.
For a player who'd just been praised by Brady for spending extra time on his craft -- a player who said there was a "huge difference" in his conditioning level from when he first arrived to the Patriots -- Sunday was a step back.
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