How Josh Gordon is reviving career, thriving with Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran cornerback Jason McCourty provides a unique perspective on Josh Gordon’s immersion into the New England Patriots' culture and how Gordon is quickly becoming a top-two receiver on the depth chart.

McCourty was Gordon’s teammate last year with the Cleveland Browns when Gordon was reinstated to the team from NFL suspension on a conditional basis in early November. Now they are teammates again this year in New England.

So what stands out to McCourty most?

“I just see a guy that’s having fun,” McCourty told ESPN.com. “I remember when he first got back last year, you could see he missed football. I think, now, you see a guy that’s settled in here, and he looks comfortable within the offense.

“I think at this point, he’s just one of the guys, and I think that’s pretty cool for him, that you’re not isolated, you’re not being talked about, you’re just showing up to practice and doing the same thing that every guy in the locker room is doing.”

How the Patriots have created an environment for the 27-year-old Gordon to have a chance to thrive as “just one of the guys” -- which includes supporting him off the field with his history of substance-abuse struggles -- is one of the most compelling storylines surrounding the team heading into Monday night’s road game against the Buffalo Bills (ESPN, 8:20 p.m. ET).

From Gordon’s viewpoint, he hasn’t had any choice but to be swept up in the current of how the Patriots go about their business.

“Everybody’s bought in, it’s a great space and environment to work, to focus and lock in,” he said. “It’s a breeding ground for excellence, so you can’t do anything but get involved and help become a part of it, really.”

Gordon’s ability to do so has impressed his teammates.

When the Patriots acquired Gordon (and a conditional seventh-round pick) from the Browns on Sept. 17 in exchange for a fifth-round draft choice, they put his locker directly next to quarterback Tom Brady’s. It probably wasn’t a coincidence.

Gordon and Brady have formed an instant connection, which has transferred onto the field, where Gordon has seen a recent spike in playing time. After playing 15 and 18 snaps in his first two games, he has played 60 and 64 in each of the past two weeks and is coming off his first 100-yard receiving game in an Oct. 21 win at Chicago.

“I just think it’s so impressive, in my view, what he’s done in a short period of time and how he’s assumed this specific role in our offense,” Brady said. “That’s very challenging to do. The receiver position in our offense takes years for most guys to understand and learn nuances and intricacies of not only our plays, but how to get open within the scheme, how to gain my trust.”

Gordon, who was initially slowed by a hamstring injury and just began opening up to full throttle in practices the past two weeks, has 13 catches for 224 yards and one touchdown. Brady believes they can accomplish more if they keep working at it.

“It’s a credit to him, what he’s been doing and what his routine has been,” Brady said. “I know he’s got a lot of great support, and everyone wants to see him do as well as he possibly can.”

Receiver Phillip Dorsett said he sits next to Gordon in the receivers' meeting room and described him as someone who is “constantly asking all the right questions.” But it’s not just the questions that stand out to Dorsett, it’s also how Gordon asks them.

“You can just tell the way he carries himself. Respectful. Always willing to learn,” he said. “Those are the traits that you can tell it’s not an act. It’s genuine.”

That approach has also won over veteran Julian Edelman, who has been paired with Gordon in two-receiver sets the past two weeks, with Chris Hogan as the third option and Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson splitting fourth and fifth duties.

After the team’s Oct. 21 win over the Bears, Edelman publicly thanked the NFL for giving Gordon multiple chances to revive his career.

“It’s pretty cool to have a guy like him and play with a dynamic player,” he said.

Gordon’s contributions are growing on the field, but as has been the case since he entered the NFL in 2012, how he manages things off the field is more important for him.

He recently described his rehabilitation as “great,” while noting that he is living in Foxborough, which is where the Patriots’ headquarters and stadium are located, with his girlfriend. He recently described it as a “nice, quiet, peaceful town” that now feels like home to him.

Gordon also credited Patriots character coach Jack Easterby for being “hands on” and helping him get acclimated to his new surroundings.

So while football is ultimately a bottom-line business, Gordon’s initial success with the Patriots is a reminder that there are also pockets within the business that can assist players with real-life issues.

“It’s been a good relationship on the whole, and we certainly enjoy his contributions on the field,” said 11-year veteran and seven-time special-teams Pro Bowler Matthew Slater, one of the team’s spiritual leaders. “But I think the unique thing about this locker room is that you have a lot of guys in here that are really concerned with the human side of things. ‘How are you in your personal life?’ ‘What’s going on with your family?’ ‘How can I help you, walk alongside you and help you out as you take on life?’

“I think that’s something, to me, that has defined this locker room for years, and it’s no different now. We’ve tried to embrace Josh. We hope he feels welcome here. We hope he feels like one of us. We want to see the best for him on and off the football field, we really do.”

Gordon said he feels that “love and support” daily and is appreciative of it. He recently tweeted an inspirational saying -- “Who you are is what you have been, who you will be is what you will do now” -- that highlighted his in-the-moment mindset.

Players have taken notice.

“I think he’s just happy to be in this situation, like all of us are,” McCourty said.

“A lot of times for guys, life happens to them and they get different things thrown their way and get pegged a certain way. My dealings with Josh have been tremendous,” Slater added. “He’s been a good friend, really respectful of everyone in this locker room, and we’ve tried to do the same. He’s really a good kid. I’ve enjoyed the process and hope it continues to go well.”

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he didn’t have any background with Gordon prior to the Patriots' acquiring the receiver, which meant McDaniels was starting with a blank canvas. The same was true for most of the players in the locker room.

“You give everybody a clean slate, a chance. I could care less what happened before,” Dorsett said. “When you get in, I judge you on your first impression. He’s made a lasting impression on all of us. He’s a really good dude, down to earth, really smart.”

The Patriots have protected Gordon in his interaction with reporters, limiting his time with them to about two minutes leading into games and then about two minutes after games. His postgame interviews have been at the dais normally reserved for captains, which has eliminated large scrums around him as well as a flurry of questions.

That fits, in part, with the hyper-focused program led by Bill Belichick, who is now in his 19th season.

“We have unique structure here, I think we have built-in accountability, when you know what’s expected of you, and if you don’t do it, there are going to be consequences and repercussions,” Slater said.

“That’s for all players, and that is understood when you come into this locker room and isn’t something that needs to be talked about. I’ve seen it help a number of guys over the years. Myself -- I need that structure. I need that accountability -- not only as a player, but as a man. That’s something I love about our locker room, and I think it can be beneficial for a lot of guys.”

Add Gordon, most definitely, to the list.