CHICAGO -- Wide receiver Josh Gordon's immersion into the New England Patriots' culture and offensive attack has been one of the team’s most compelling storylines, and it reached a new level in Sunday's 38-31 victory over the Chicago Bears.
“He’s making great plays when I throw him the ball,” quarterback Tom Brady said after Gordon finished with four receptions for a team-high 100 yards.
Three plays highlighted how the Brady-to-Gordon connection has become such a key part of the attack, and they could be summed up this way:
The clutch, all-or-nothing grab.
In a back-and-forth game that featured many twists -- with the Patriots’ inability to slow down Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as a rusher being a primary issue in the first 35 minutes of action, and then a rally-to-the-ball tackle needed on a final Hail Mary attempt to close things out -- Gordon played a big role in helping restore order at various points.
Let’s start with the game-breaker.
Gordon’s 55-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter set up the Patriots’ final touchdown two plays later, giving them a two-touchdown cushion. On a day in which the Patriots didn’t play their best (three turnovers) but relied on two special-teams touchdowns, they needed all the breathing room they could get.
It turned out Gordon (four catches, 100 yards) needed some help as well, as he was so exhausted after the play that he came to the sideline for a two-play break.
“Unfortunately I got a little tired there,” Gordon said, flashing a wide smile while laughing. “I’m glad I was able to make something happen.”
Gordon added that he knew he would be relied upon more coming into the game, as the Patriots were without tight end Rob Gronkowski because of a back injury.
Meanwhile, Brady relayed that confidence continues to develop with Gordon, with the 55-yarder one example of it.
“We had a good play-action pass and I had great protection, and he was running kind of a deep in-cut, and caught it in stride,” he explained, noting how the drive had started at the team’s own 4-yard line with teammates talking in the huddle beforehand about putting together a 96-yard scoring drive. “He ran over the safety, got down to the 1-yard line -- an incredible play. We really needed that.”
And not to be overlooked before that was Gordon’s clutch, all-or-nothing 19-yard catch on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter. He crashed to the ground upon making the grab up the right sideline, causing his helmet to fly off. Five plays later, the Patriots scored a touchdown to go ahead 21-17.
“I had him matched up on a one-on-one and he just went up and got it – made a great play,” Brady said.
Gordon said the play was an example of the progress he has made with Brady from last week, when the two weren’t always on the same page.
Head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged Gordon’s “two big plays,” and not to be overlooked, Gordon also delivered a momentum-stopping 20-yard catch in the first quarter after a 7-0 lead had turned into a 10-7 deficit. Soldier Field was rocking.
Those chunk plays were hard to come by early in the season, but Gordon -- who has decisively become a top-two option in the team’s offense -- gives the Patriots (5-2) a better chance to make them. As Brady has said, big-time players step up to make plays when the team needs them most, and it was telling that Gordon was involved in so many of them Sunday.
“He’s buying in to everything the coaches have been talking to him about and is making big plays for us,” said running back James White, one of the team’s captains.
“He’s a threat. He goes down the field and makes plays. I just want to say thanks to the league. It’s pretty cool to have a guy like him and play with a dynamic player,” added receiver Julian Edelman, referencing Gordon’s off-field struggles with substance abuse.
As it relates to the big-picture snapshot at receiver, with the Patriots next set to visit the Buffalo Bills on Monday, Oct. 29, consider that Gordon is now playing in all two-, three- and four-receiver sets for the team, with Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett seeing their playing time reduced as a result.
That is a big change from Gordon's first two games with the team, when he played 18 snaps apiece. Last week against the Chiefs, he was on for 63. Against the Bears, he played 61.
Gordon’s role continues to grow, as does his impact on the team.