FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots matched up against Josh Gordon just once during his six-plus years with the Cleveland Browns, but the wide receiver gave a performance to remember in that game.
In Week 14 of the 2013 season, Gordon’s 4-8 Browns visited Gillette Stadium for a matchup with the 9-3 Patriots, who were well on their way to yet another AFC Championship Game appearance. New England was favored by 9 1/2 points, but Cleveland very nearly pulled off an upset, thanks in large part to their electrifying second-year wideout.
With journeyman Jason Campbell as his quarterback and Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib as his primary matchup, Gordon went off for seven catches on 10 targets for 151 yards and a touchdown. The Browns led by 12 with just over a minute remaining before the Patriots scored two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds to secure an improbable 27-26 victory.
“He was a monster then,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “And he’s still a monster now.”
“He had a lot of yards,” safety Duron Harmon added. “I do remember that. He had a breakaway slant against Talib that showed the speed and athleticism. He had a lot of good catches with Talib all on him.”
That breakaway slant resulted in an 80-yard touchdown that Matt Patricia, the Patriots’ defensive coordinator at the time, remembers well. Gordon caught the pass against Talib, hit the cornerback with a stiff-arm to the chest at Cleveland’s 37-yard line and galloped untouched into the end zone.
“Unfortunately, the last time I saw him, he caught a slant that he’s probably still running,” said Patricia, now the head coach of the Detroit Lions. “Just a really huge play for them when he was in Cleveland.”
That game against the Patriots capped one of the best four-game stretches ever by an NFL receiver.
Despite having Campbell and the immortal Brandon Weeden throwing him passes, Gordon racked up an incredible 774 receiving yards on 36 catches between Weeks 11 and 14. He caught five touchdown passes during that span — including 74-, 80- and 95-yarders — and surpassed 230 receiving yards in back-to-back games. For context, all NFL wideouts have combined for just five 230-plus-yard games since the start of the 2014 season.
Talib held Gordon in check early but began to falter late in the second quarter. Gordon caught passes of 20 and 18 yards in the final minutes before halftime, then added a 19-yard grab, a 34-yard run on a reverse and his long touchdown during the second half. He also drew a defensive holding call on Talib and dropped what should have been another easy reception.
“He’s a hell of a player, man,” Talib told reporters after the game, via ESPN.com. “… He’s going to make some noise in this league.”
Unfortunately for Gordon, his career went off the rails following that spectacular 2013 season as he battled mental health and substance abuse problems. He’s played in just 11 of a possible 66 games since, the result of multiple suspensions handed down by the NFL and the Browns.
The Patriots now hope Gordon can get back on track in a new setting. After making his Patriots practice debut Wednesday, the 27-year-old is expected to be active Sunday against Patricia’s Lions.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images