Calling the NFL’s week 5 game between the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns "must-see TV" would have been a bad joke just a few months ago. Now, the game is shaping up to be what your grandpa might refer to as "a real slobberknocker!"
(For the kids out there, calling a game "a slobberknocker" is the same thing as saying it’s going to be "LIT".)
First off, the U.S. Second Court of Appeals reinstated Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for…something or another…on April 25th. As the Boston Herald clarified, while TB12 is suspended, he can’t attend or watch practice, be at team facilities for any reason, "engage in any team football-related activities or discussions" with teammates, travel with the team, have contact with any team personnel, and the Patriots can’t even give him game film to watch. Even if Tom wanted to buy a ticket and watch the game as a fan, well, too bad, he can’t do that either.
Meanwhile, as of Monday, Browns receiver Josh Gordon finally pulled off the NFL equivalent of Batman escaping from that weird prison pit thing in The Dark Knight Rises – Gordon isn’t "indefinitely" suspended anymore!
Josh is still suspended for four games this season, though. From ESPN:
The NFL announced Gordon's reinstatement Monday, saying he will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season. He will be allowed to join the Browns at their training camp, which starts Thursday, and can participate in all team meetings and activities.
And it sounds like Gordon is pretty stoked about it:
I'm blessed and grateful to be granted this opportunity. I can’t wait to get back out there and play the game I… https://t.co/1xehJ840fH— Flash Gordon (@JOSH_GORDONXII) July 25, 2016
Of course, this means that Week 5, when the Patriots face off against the Browns – in Cleveland, nonetheless, where, if "Believeland" is to be believed, the Dawg Pound will be out in full force - Tom Brady and Josh Gordon will both take the field for the first time this season after sitting out the first four games of 2016.
Marinate on that for a second. One of the best quarterbacks of all time will lead his team against one of the most supremely talented, but infuriatingly poor decision-makers in recent history.
It’s OK if it seems like it’s been forever since Josh Gordon played football, but The Ringer had a great piece from Danny Kelly yesterday about Flash Gordon basically being a Madden cheat code when he was at his best. Go read it, (and then come back here!), but here’s the prime-rib-type stuff:
"Gordon’s 2013 campaign for Cleveland was absurd: 87 catches for an NFL-best 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games. Basically, his record-setting season was comparable to what DeAndre Hopkins did across 16 games in 2015 — elite production with a rotating turnstile of subpar quarterbacks."
Mmmmm, tasty. Have some more:
"Since we haven’t seen the ideal version of Josh Gordon in a couple of years, you may have forgotten what the 6-foot-3, 225-pound receiver can do. He’s got Julio Jones’s breakaway speed at somewhere between Dez Bryant’s and Brandon Marshall’s size. And even though it feels like we’ve been talking about his suspension for a decade, he’s still only 25 years old. That’s a few months younger than Kelvin Benjamin, who was still at Florida State when Gordon was lighting up the league in 2013.
At full force, Gordon is one of the deadliest downfield pass catchers in the game. He averaged 18.9 yards per reception in 2013, and even as a rookie in 2012, he was producing highlights that didn’t look dissimilar from Randy Moss in his prime."
And here’s your post-dinner cocktail to wash it all down:
"Gordon’s 2,451 receiving yards through his first two seasons are fourth-most all time since the AFL-NFL merger, trailing only Odell Beckham Jr., Randy Moss, and Jerry Rice."
You don’t have to be a stat nerd to realize how ridiculous that is.
And that was with Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer slinging the rock for the Browns.
(This is where things get really exciting, unless you’re the Patriots secondary.)
Instead of those aforementioned replacement-level (or worse) quarterbacks, the Browns picked up an old buddy of Josh’s to play the most important position on the field. You already know who it is.
Robert Griffin III, the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the guy that put the Washington Redskins on his back and gave D.C. their first taste of the postseason since 2007.
And the MMQB’s Albert Breer sure seems to think that RGIII basically has the starting job locked up:
"What (Hue) Jackson doesn’t know yet (or if he does, he isn’t saying) is whether or not Griffin will be his starter for the team’s opener Sept. 11 in Philly. Veteran Josh McCown is another option, as is rookie Cody Kessler with Connor Shaw and Austin Davis filling out the depth chart.
But, as minicamp wraps today, 11 weeks to the day that Griffin signed, it remains the likelihood that Griffin will be the guy."
So, there’s that, and the Browns also drafted speed-demon wide receiver Corey Coleman from – wait for it – Baylor! - in the first round this year.
Meanwhile, when Tom Brady returns to the Pride Lands after being told by the NFL to "run far, far away, and never return", he’ll get the keys back to command what’s looking like one of the most loaded offenses New England has ever had.
Just look at last season.
Brady learned that he was going to play the first four games of 2015 after all exactly one week before the NFL’s season-opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
By the time Week 3 was in the books, the Patriots had scored 119 points. That’s more than the 2007 Patriots did in that record-setting season, so, by extension, the most points the team has ever scored in the first three games of the season.
TB12 ended the regular season last year with 36 touchdowns, 4,770 passing yards, and had his second-best year ever in terms of taking care of the ball – only 7 interceptions. That’s an interception percentage of 1.1%. Again, you don’t have to be a stats nerd to appreciate a dude throwing a pick on one out of every 100 passes he throws.
Brady even got an MVP vote, which doesn’t sound that impressive until you realize that 48 out of 50 voters said that Cam Newton giving the NFL Stone Cold Stunners all season long deserved the MVP more.
Think maybe Tom Brady’s got an iPhone countdown set for Week 5?
Not only did Brady play some of the best ball of his life last year, he also ran out of cares to give.
From CBS Boston’s Michael Hurley, after the Colts game (AKA the Snitches Get Stitches Bowl):
"But when you watch someone for a decade-and-a-half, you can pick up on his tells.
So make no mistake about it: Tom Brady was — and is — an angry man."
"The person at that podium was fuming. He was unwilling to say anything of substance. By now, he has the platitudes and clichés down to a science, to the point where he can essentially flip on autopilot and zone out during his press conferences before uttering "thanks guys" and heading off the stage to live his life in private. But typically, somewhere in that process, he makes the effort to throw in a smile, to pal around with the media, to show the charm that earns him millions upon millions of dollars in endorsement deals. But not this time."
And that was after the Patriots won, 34-27, and the Colts threw up all over themselves with all the grace of a Spring Break kid on Bourbon Street when they tried that disaster of a fake punt.
Oh, and we almost forgot – Tom Brady also has some brand-new pass-catching and blocking friends to help him out.
Martellus Bennett, aside from being a logistical impossibility to game-plan for, has the most yards-after-catch among tight ends since 2013. The only tight end with more yards after the catch than Marty is – wait for it – Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots also stole wide receiver Chris Hogan from the Buffalo Bills this spring by way of a crafty offer sheet. Hogan’s 6’1’’, weighs in at 220 pounds, and is apparently made of adamantium since he’s never missed a game in his entire career. And in hopes of finally drafting a good receiver, New England picked up Malcolm Mitchell from Georgia, who, among other things, scouts say has some route-running polish that Tom Brady should be pretty happy with.
Oh, we’re not done yet! The Patriots used their third-round pick this year – the one that Kevin Faulk introduced in a Tom Brady jersey - to snag NC State offensive lineman Joe Thuney, who played on both sides of the line in college, but O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia wants to play guard or center "unless disaster hits".
Either way, the offensive line should do a much better job keeping Brady’s jersey clean with the return of left tackle Nate Solder, who went on injured reserve after Week 5. You know life is bad when you’re trying out Bryan Stork at tackle.
(No offense to Stork, but when your right tackle is on the left side, and your center is playing right tackle, and your guards are in and out every other game, it got ugly pretty quickly.)
That, guys, is the offense Tom Brady is coming back to in Week 5.
Against the Cleveland Browns.
And Josh Gordon.
Heck, it may even be worth a road trip to Cleveland to see it.