In December 2013, the New England Patriots got a firsthand look at Josh Gordon during one of the greatest stretches of performances by a wide receiver in NFL history.
Gordon, who the Patriots acquired in a trade this week with the Cleveland Browns, had just become the first NFL player ever to put up more than 200 receiving yards in two consecutive games. In a close Week 14 loss to the 10-3 Patriots, the then-22-year-old receiver led his team in both receiving and rushing yards. But there was one play that remains fresh in Matt Patricia’s mind.
With 97 seconds left in the third quarter, Browns quarterback Jason Campbell dropped back on 1st and 10 and fired a quick pass to Gordon, who was running a slant pattern. Gordon caught the ball in stride around the 29-yard line, stiff-armed Patriots cornerback Aquib Talib, and was gone. Eighty yards. Touchdown.
You can watch the full video and replays of the touchdown on the NFL’s website.
The play was a perfect encapsulation of the combination of speed and strength that made the 6-foot-3 receiver — despite his struggles with substance abuse — a singular player at the time.
“Unfortunately the last time I saw him, he caught a slant that he’s probably still running,” Patricia, now the head coach of the Detroit Lions, joked on a conference call Thursday, ahead of his team’s game Sunday night against the Patriots.
“Just a really huge play for them when he was in Cleveland,” Patricia added.
Asked about the play Friday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick concurred: “It was an impressive play.”
Gordon finished that 2013 game with 151 total receiving yards and 34 rushing yards. Even Talib couldn’t help but praise him after the game.
“He’s a hell of a player,” Talib said at the time. “He’s young, he’s going to make some noise in this league, man, he’s pretty good.”
Gordon, now 27, is gearing up for his first game with the Patriots against the Lions on Sunday night. Patricia expects him to still be “a big challenge for us,” especially with no idea what Belichick has in mind for his offense’s talented, new weapon.
“For us not to have anything on tape as far as what they’re going to do with him, in that aspect also is a little bit difficult,” Patricia said.