Josh Gordon was Tom Brady’s most productive receiver for 14 games, with more than a quarter of the Patriots yardage through the air. By targets, Gordon was Brady’s third favorite, ahead of Rob Gronkowski. Gordon was top 10 in the NFL in yards after the catch. He was physically unique among the receiving corps.
With Gordon gone, a tough season for a 41-year-old quarterback got tougher. Brady, however, knows pity won’t get him anywhere.
“Part of the nature of playing a long time is you realize that things happen very quickly and they change very quickly,” he told reporters on Friday. “We lost Jeremy Hill the first game of the year. You think you’ve got all this running back depth, next thing you know, guys get hurt. It’s two weeks in, you’re like, ‘Holy cow, what happened?’ And that’s just part of playing and being mentally tough.
“The guys that have been here have been working hard. … I just have a lot of confidence in the guys that are in there.”
Two days from a Gillette Stadium showdown with 5-9 Buffalo which should finally seal up the AFC East for the Patriots, Brady’s press conference was dominated by Gordon’s surprise departure and indefinite suspension by the NFL. Brady wouldn’t divulge any specifics about personal conversations with his former locker-room neighbor, noting he’d heard the news the same way as everyone else.
“We all wish him the best,” he said. “I think that’s kind of how we all feel. We want him to do what’s right for him.”
The more pertinent questions were about the offense, relatively reeling after back-to-back December losses put a ninth straight first-round playoff bye in question. Brady’s worst game of the year by QB rating, the 14-for-26, 133-yard debacle in Detroit, was the last before Gordon joined the offense. His fourth-worst was Sunday, when Gordon got just two targets despite playing all but five offensive snaps.
With conjecture buzzing he’s playing through a significant knee injury, Brady losing a primary weapon adds intrigue to what most assume will be a pair of AFC East walkovers before the playoffs. Not that adversity or the sudden loss of a teammate is anything new to a 19-year pro.
“We all have lives that exist outside of this building and there’s a lot of support from everyone and everyone goes through different things over the course of the year,” Brady said. “When you actually go out on the field and in meetings and so forth, you just focus on what you have to do, what your role is, what your job is. I think we’ve done a good job of that.”
Maybe it will be — as Marquis Flowers hinted at on Twitter — Chris Hogan picking up the slack as a deep threat. He’s ninth in the NFL yards per reception at 16.1, not all that far behind Gordon’s second-ranked 18.0. Maybe it’s even more James White, already the team leader in catches. Whatever the options, these last two games stand as a testing ground for Brady and coordinator Josh McDaniels to reassemble with the pieces left.
With plenty left to win, Brady and his teammates have done what they always do: Moved on.
“Certainly appreciate all his efforts and hard work,” he said of Gordon’s departure. “I didn’t have much of a reaction. Just focus on what I need to do and that’s kind of the way it’s been all year.”