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The Tom Brady-Josh Gordon connection is picking up right where it left off

Related: Patriots offense already looks near-unstoppable even without Antonio Brown in the mix

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Statistically speaking, Josh Gordon’s performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night does not stand out. Three receptions? He has 39 games on his career résumé that saw him catch three passes or more. 73 receiving yards? That ranks just 23rd among his 53 games in the NFL. A touchdown? 17 other contests also saw him find the end zone at least once. And yet, the game might still be among the most important of his career.

After all, the contest against the Steelers marked Gordon’s ‘real’ in-game return from an indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The 28-year-old made certain to make it a good one. Not only was he on the field for 47 of the New England Patriots’ 70 offensive snaps, he also showed that he is still capable of challenging defensive backs consistently and coming up with the big catch if called upon.

On Sunday, he had two of them: a 20-yard touchdown in the first quarter and an impressive 44-yard grab in the third (he also had a 9-yard catch in quarter two). The numbers only tell part of the story, though, at least when told through Gordon’s eyes. After all, the second-year Patriot entered the regular season opener with a simple goal: having as much fun as possible, as he pointed out during his postgame press conference.

“That was the main goal for me, just have as much fun as possible. Go as hard and put as much of myself out there as I possibly could, and I had a good time with it. That was my number one objective,” he said following the Patriots’ decisive 33-3 victory over the Steelers. Gordon seeing regular snaps and making plays did not just lead to him having fun, though, it also made his quarterback’s life a lot easier.

Tom Brady was terrific on Sunday, and Gordon’s presence in the lineup certainly played a role in that. Defenses need to consistently have an eye on the physical perimeter receiver, after all, which in turn helps open things up elsewhere. Of course, he himself also showed that he can be trusted as a target in the passing game — something that was already the case after the Patriots traded for him in 2018.

Before the wide receiver’s suspension in late December, Brady and Gordon connected 40 times for 720 yards and three touchdowns. The veteran pass catcher became a valuable cog in New England’s offensive machinery rather quickly, and a player regularly targeted by his quarterback — one that had to say a lot of nice things about Gordon after yesterday’s game: “I think Josh is a great player, and he was last year for us,” Brady said

“It’s great to have him out there. He’s a dynamic player and every game that we play together, there’s just more things that come up, there’s more trust that’s built, and I’ll keep finding a way to get him the ball,” he continued about his ever-growing connection with Gordon. The man in question has a similar opinion on his relationship with the future Hall of Famer and its development over the past and into a possibly productive future.

“We have spent a lot of time together,” Gordon, who only returned to the Patriots from his suspension in mid-August, said after Sunday night’s game. “I think over the course of time, talking together, working together after practice, in-between practice — yeah, I get the feel for what he likes and I try to find my way there as best I can. I think it will get better; it’s the first game so we’re building.”

But while his productivity on the football field is encouraging to see, the most important thing is his mental wellbeing. And according to Gordon himself, he is on a good way: “I’m doing very well. I’m extremely filled with gratitude every day, just enjoying myself. Coming inside this building, being with this family-oriented type of environment, and just doing what I love to do. There’s nothing better than this, honestly. It’s great.”