At 28 years of age, Josh Gordon has already been through a lot: he has struggled with substance abuse and mental health problems for much of his life, and has spent a sizable portion of his NFL career either suspended or in rehab. Three weeks into his eight season as a pro football players, however, he appears to have finally found his footing: Gordon looks healthy, and is embracing what he calls his ‘battle of perseverance.’
During the New England Patriots’ game against the New York Jets, this fight and Gordon’s resiliency were on full display. While the wide receiver finished the contest with six catches for a team-high 83 yards, he also had to leave it on two separate occasions because of injuries: in the late second quarter, Gordon hurt his back while coming down hard after an incomplete pass; in the third period, he injured his finger on a blocking attempt.
Twice, however, he came back to make key plays in helping the Patriots secure their third victory of the season. For Gordon, however, the pain is just part of the game: “Some weeks are more painful than others. Obviously, it’s not always that bad, but it’s part of the game. I don’t think anybody likes to get banged up or have to come out of the game, but it’s just the reality of it,” he said during a press conference following Sunday’s game.
“I think the more important part is just like how many times can you get knocked down and come back?” added Gordon when speaking about what was a challenging game. “That’s my mindset, that’s my attitude, no matter if it doesn’t take me out all the way where I can’t physically do it, I’m going to be back out there within a couple plays. If medically I’m approved to do so, I’m going to go back out no matter what it is that’s hurt me.”
Gordon’s approach to the game and his willingness to help the team did also not go unnoticed by his teammates — and also by head coach Bill Belichick: “Josh has worked really hard since he’s come back. He’s shown a lot of toughness. [H]e’s taken some hits over the middle. He’s a big, strong kid but he’s resilient and he’s shown a lot of mental toughness holding onto the ball and took a couple of tough hits.”
“We call that ‘War Daddy Deluxe,’” added team captain and fellow wide receiver Matthew Slater after Gordon’s third game since his return from suspension — a game during which he assumed the number one perimeter role he has played for the Patriots ever since they acquired him via trade in 2018. “He was out there taking hits, dislocating... I don’t know what he did to his finger, but I’m assuming it wasn’t good. He showed a lot of toughness today.”
“He’s an incredible receiver,” added safety Devin McCourty. “I saw first-hand back in ‘13 when we played him and he took a slant 80 yards for a touchdown when he was in Cleveland. Honestly, it’s just been great to see him work. Coming back here and just getting straight to work. Getting to know him better; he’s a part of the family, so it’s been awesome just to see him go out there and make plays for us.”
So far this season, Gordon has made plenty of plays for New England: three games into the regular season, he has been targeted 20 times — second most on the team behind only Julian Edelman’s 25 — by quarterback Tom Brady and has 11 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown on his résumé. Along the way, he has been on the field for 172 of a possible 219 offensive snaps (78.5%) which ties him with Edelman for the team-lead in playing time.
However, Gordon is not yet ready to speak about feeling comfortable with the situation he is in and what he has accomplished so far during the 2019 season: “I think it’s way too early for me to be feeling any type of comfortability, from a standpoint of being content. I’m very ambitious; I think this team is. Expectations are high. I want to continue to try to climb that ladder and reach those personal and team goals together.”
“It’s way too soon. I think there’s a lot left out there that we left on the table this afternoon that I think we wish we could have had back. So, moving forward, I think we need to try to capitalize and continue to stay focused in those critical moments of the game,” Gordon added before also pointing out that his mindset when it comes to playing the game of football has not changed throughout the years even though the circumstances have.
“I think my life, the battle of perseverance is something that can show through, through my play and my mindset and how I attack the game,” he said. “I think I’ve always been that way, just always having the mindset to not leave anything undone, not give it my best if I could do so. Physically, I think I’ve always just kind of been a fighter in some type of way — was going to have to fight back, was going to be the underdog. That’s my mindset when I step out there on the field and play each week.”
Fellow wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who like Gordon played a noticeable role during New England’s win against the Jets, summed up his teammate and what he brings to the table well: “He is a warrior. He came back in the game and he knew we needed him.” So far this season, the Patriots knew that they could rely on Gordon to step up when his number was called upon — his showing on Sunday was no exception.
Was it perfect? No, but it certainly was encouraging considering the path that lies behind.