By Sterling Pingree
I jinxed it. The first rule about Josh Gordon was, you didn’t talk about Josh Gordon. Not how well he was playing on the field, not the dimensions he added to the Patriots offense and especially not the 2-ton elephant in the room that was his ability to stay off of the Commissioner’s list. I broke the first rule, when two weeks ago on The Drive I asked Patriots beat writer, Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal, about Gordon’s assimilation to the Patriots and what his future could be beyond this season.
I jinxed it all.
The other shoe that we were all hoping would never drop, fell this morning and all of it: the wording, the reasons and explanation were exactly how Patriots fans knew this would probably end. Gordon announced on social media that he was stepping away from football to deal with mental health issues. This was announced in stereo with reports that Gordon had violated his reinstatement and was looking at an indefinite suspension from the League.
It should go without being said that you root for someone who is going through what he was/is going through and you hope that he can find what he needs. Beyond football, Gordon is a fascinating case of challenges that face modern athletes, with what we now know about how debilitating mental illness and addiction can be. According to Gordon, he began smoking marijuana in 7th grade and through his college career smoked and sold it consistently.
Josh Gordon is stepping away from the Patriots at perhaps the most vulnerable point we’ve seen them at in the Brady/Belichick era. Two straight losses in December doesn’t happen often, neither do Wild Card Playoff games and now the team’s best receiver is out of the equation. Gordon was the perfect gradient between Gronkowski and Edelman. He was a big target like Gronk who could stretch the field wide and Gordon had been the Patriots best run after the catch receiver like Edelman once was. How do the Patriots fill this void and what do they do on third down?
The Patriots need to get back to what made them successful for much of the middle of the season: James White. It feels like years ago that James White was having the type of year that could warrant a Pro Bowl nod and was the Patriots leading rusher/pass catcher. With the proliferation of Sony Michel and most starkly since the activation of Rex Burkhead from the IR, White’s usage is way down and in most of their losses so is the Patriots offense.
The 2018 Patriots have been compared to the 2009 team, aka the last to play on Wild Card weekend, but I think the current iteration reminds me more of the 2015 squad. That team only had to go 1 for 2 in their finals games vs the Jets and Dolphins to nab the #1 seed and failed to win either of them. This sent them to Denver for the AFC Championship game with Steven Jackson at running back, Edelman playing his second game since October and Scott Chandler as your second tight end. This current edition of the Patriots can still get a first round bye, they just need to sweep the Bills and Jets, plus hope that Houston loses a game. The Patriots aren’t losing either of these games, but wouldn’t it serve this team right for going 11-5 that they wind up the #3 team in the conference behind the Chiefs and Texans.
11-5, the nerve.
We all knew how fragile the Gordon situation was from the beginning, it was a gamble. Not much different than signing pitchers like Carson Smith or Tyler Thornburg, the damaged ligaments could go at any time but you cling to the hope that those tendons are just strong enough to last the season. That was the similar feeling with Josh Gordon, you wanted so badly for him to be able to hold on and last through the season, for him and for the New England Patriots. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and football isn’t what Gordon needs most right now but finding out what he does need should be.
And now it’s okay to talk about that.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Facebook, Drive Show Maine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.