ATLANTA — Ask any New England Patriots offensive player or coach about wide receiver Josh Gordon during Super Bowl week, and he will talk about how much Gordon contributed to the team this season and how sorry he was to see Gordon go when he stepped away from the team in December to seek treatment for a drug addiction.
“He’s part of the reason we’re here,” wideout Chris Hogan says. “We’re gonna play hard for him.”
“He’ll be able to get through it,” wide receiver Phillip Dorsett says. “He’s a strong dude.”
“Hopefully we can make him proud come Sunday,” Patriots receiver Matthew Slater says.
“We were supportive of him then and supportive of him now,” wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea says.
Now ask those same people if they’ve reached out and shared those sentiments with Gordon, who hasn’t been with the team since Week 15 when he was suspended indefinitely for violating the terms of his reinstatement under the league’s substance abuse policy. The receiver is currently undergoing treatment at a Gainesville, Fla. inpatient rehabilitation facility, which is where he will likely watch the team he spent three months with play in the Super Bowl.
When’s the last time you texted Josh Gordon?
“I reached out when [he left the team],” Hogan says.
“Last I spoke to him was before he left,” says Slater.
“About a month ago,” Dorsett says.
“I gotta go,” said O'Shea, moving to the exit at the conclusion of Super Bowl LIII Opening Night without answering the question.
We’ve written about this before. The Patriot Way is about holding all players accountable, and using the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, as a verbal punching bag to illustrate that expectation. The Patriot Way is also courting free agents who sign at below-market cost in exchange for the best chance to reach and win a Super Bowl. And the Patriot Way is about focusing on the people in the building, and casting aside those who are not. So while the team maintains a locker for Gordon in the Foxborough, Mass. facility and has shrewdly kept him on the roster during this indefinite suspension from the NFL, the players who will take the field in the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years were taken aback to hear the name Josh Gordon on Monday night.
Cordarrelle Patterson, a first-year Patriots receiver still feeling out what is acceptable and unacceptable to share with the media in coach Bill Belichick's pressure cooker, puts it best. “My main focus right now is to play football. I’m just happy to be here at the Super Bowl and can’t wait for Sunday to get here,” he said when asked about Gordon’s contributions this season and the prospect of him sitting in a Florida rehab facility watching this game on television.
So you weren’t tight with the guy?
“Like I said, my main focus is football and I’m just excited for every guy in this locker room,” Patterson said in monotone as he stared off into the distance.
Nobody hammers this messaging home harder than Belichick, whose dissatisfaction with Super Bowl media availabilities and anything else that could become a distraction to his roster is abundantly evident in each of his press conferences. It is, no doubt, one of the myriad attributes which make him the most successful coach in NFL history. One shudders to think what he might say this week if asked about Gordon’s status with the team.
For others on the roster, though, shutting down a Gordon question isn’t so easy. Dorsett, the 26-year-old Ft. Lauderdale native, was described by teammates as being the closest with Gordon during the roughly three months he spent with the team after being traded from Cleveland, along with a seventh-round pick, in exchange for a fifth-round pick. Their apartments were next door to one another, they sat together in meetings and pored over the playbook together in effort to get Gordon up to speed. In 11 games Gordon caught 40 balls for 720 yards while Dorsett hauled in 32 for 290 yards over the course of the season. Then one day Gordon was gone.
“He was doing so well,” Dorsett says. “It came out of nowhere, but at the end of the day I’ve got a lot of love for Josh Gordon. You hate to see that happen to one of your brothers. We did all we could, tried to help him with the playbook, and for him to grasp as much as he did in such a short time, that’s a smart dude.
“But I can’t really worry about that right now, because we’re here and we’ve got a game to play.”
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