Gordon was a dominant wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns in 2013. But in the four-plus years since, he has been that player only in our imaginations. It's so exciting to remember what he did that year -- 87 catches for a league-leading 1,646 yards to go with nine touchdowns in only 14 games -- that we ignore the fact that it happened five years ago.
The odds of anyone repeating such a performance after so much time are incredibly low, to say nothing of Gordon's chances of playing 14 games in a season. He has played in only 11 games, total, since that brilliant 2013 campaign ended.
But we watch sports in the hopes of witnessing new levels of greatness, and because we remember Gordon as someone who delivered that, we cling to the hope that he can deliver it again if only he could find a way to stay on the field.
Problem is, he hasn't been able to stay on the field, and there's no reason to think that's going to be any different in New England than it was in Cleveland. Hope? Sure, you can hope Monday's trade from the Browns to the Patriots is the move that finally unlocks the 2013 version of Gordon again. But to expect it -- heck, to view it at all without a healthy dose of skepticism -- would be flat-out foolish.
What we learned about Gordon this weekend is that the Browns are done with him, which is no small development considering how many times they'd stuck with him in the past. Through suspension after suspension, false start after false start, the Browns kept supporting Gordon and welcoming him back. Then he showed up late Saturday with a hamstring injury he didn't have when he left the building on Friday afternoon, and all of a sudden there was a John Dorsey statement saying it was all over. A team whose Week 1 tie was its best single-game result since Christmas Eve of 2016 was dumping the player who scored that game's tying touchdown.
This just a few weeks after Gordon missed several weeks of training camp under mysterious circumstances. He and sources close to the situation said he was tending to his own mental health and emotional well-being, but at the end of it all the NFL had a say in when he was allowed back at practice.
So you can't shake the suspicion that something happened that rubbed Gordon up against the league's rules once again, and that's a reminder of how close Gordon perpetually is to a suspension that could end his career.
Gordon knows this. He has spoken about it, and about his struggles with addiction. We seek not to minimize those struggles here. If anything, the rush to project great things for Gordon in New England ignores the power that struggle exerts over Gordon's life. The fact that multiple teams were interested in trading a draft pick for Gordon actually feels a little uncomfortable when set in the context of the larger issues in Gordon's life. He had a support system set up in Cleveland, and he still couldn't make it to Week 2. This is a young man dealing with a lot of things that have nothing to do with football.
Addiction is a constant presence in the life of anyone afflicted with it, and in Gordon's case one of the offshoots is that his struggle has him one misstep away from another lengthy suspension.
Which means, in cold, neutral terms, that this is kind of it for Gordon. Yes, he could take off in New England with Brady throwing to him and justify all the latent hope of the past four-plus years. That is the hope of anyone who likes redemption stories and outsized athletic greatness.
But the range of potential outcomes with Gordon is wide, and he has spent a lot more time on the other end of that spectrum. The ugly truth is that there's a nonzero chance he never catches a single Tom Brady pass. He's a worthwhile lottery ticket for the Patriots considering the price they paid in the trade. To look at it any other way at this point is to pine for something we don't know for sure is still there or ever coming back.
A couple of other things we learned in Week 2:
Dez Bryant may have to wait awhile
While we're on the subject of receivers whose recent production doesn't match up to their names or reputations, former Cowboy Bryant remains without a team as we head into Week 3. He'd dangled Washington and New England as possibilities on social media recently, but the Patriots just traded for Gordon and have Julian Edelman coming back in two weeks, while Washington just signed Breshad Perriman and Michael Floyd. It's possible Cleveland, which had Bryant in for a much-publicized visit during camp, could turn its eyes back to him. But so far, they haven't. Teams see Bryant as a receiver who hasn't shown an ability to separate or win with speed on the outside for a while now, and there isn't a lot of interest in him at this point. Someone's wide receiver situation would have to change due to injury, forcing a team to look at Bryant differently than they do now, in order for him to find a team anytime soon.
The Bengals are a legit playoff contender
I covered two games in Week 2, and the first was the Thursday night Ravens-Bengals game in Cincinnati. The Bengals were quite proud of themselves after beating their division rivals to improve to 2-0, and there was talk in the postgame locker room of "a different feeling" around the team than they have had the past two years.
Not to minimize that, but the biggest problem the Bengals had the past two years may have been the offensive line, and they made a lot of changes there. They traded for veteran tackle Cordy Glenn, drafted center Billy Price in the first round and hired offensive line coach Frank Pollack away from the Cowboys. (The Cowboys, incidentally, hired former Bengals line coach Paul Alexander, effectively swapping offensive line coaches with Cincinnati in a bit of an underrated offseason storyline.) Now, Price left Thursday's game with an injury, which obviously bears watching, but the Bengals' formidable defensive front has seen a difference in this year's offensive line.
"You can just see them adjusting to that mentality of their new offensive line coach," Carlos Dunlap told me. "Just bringing that mentality that Frank brings, taking ownership of their roles in the offense and in the offense overall. It definitely feels different with that group this year."
Dallas' defense has some new elements and may be pretty good
The other Week 2 game I covered was the Sunday night game in Dallas, where the Cowboys sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning six times and kept New York out of the end zone until the final two minutes. The Cowboys are legitimately excited about their defensive personnel this year, but they made a coaching change there that has everyone fired up as well. Dallas hired former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to coach their defensive backs, and they believe he has had a major impact. You saw it Sunday night, when five of the Cowboys' six sacks came on blitzes -- an element of the defense that coordinator Rod Marinelli seems to have embraced once Richard brought it from Seattle.
"He's been outstanding," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told me. "Just a huge plus for us. You see Byron [Jones] and Chidobe [Awuzie] just keep getting better, and having a guy with [Richard's] experience on the coaching staff, you just can't say enough about what that perspective brings."
Dallas' offense has come under fire early in the season, and while Travis Frederick remains out and the receiving corps is still piecing itself together, the Cowboys likely won't look like themselves. But they believe their defense is better than people are used to thinking it is, and that it can keep them in games while the offense figures things out.