While everyone’s thoughts are with Josh Gordon as he steps away from football in order to focus on his mental health and battle with substance abuse, the New England Patriots need to find a way to replace the production the 27-year-old receiver has given them over the past 11 games.

Since being acquired from the Cleveland Browns prior to Week 3, Gordon has caught 40 passes for 720 yards and three touchdowns. The Baylor product appeared to earn the trust of quarterback Tom Brady quickly, giving the Patriots a much-needed weapon on the outside who could both take the top off the defense and make catches in traffic while going across the middle.

With two games left in the regular season, former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi believes the loss of Gordon will be a big challenge for New England’s offense.

“I have marveled at his ability to develop Brady’s trust so quickly,” Lombardi said Friday on WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni and Fauria.” “That throw he makes in a game on the outside on a key fourth down — you know, stop fade, back-shoulder throw. Brady throws it to him, he completes it, you know, they basically win the game because of it. Those are hard to find and I think it was the Vikings game, but the reality of it is, they are going to have to find someone who can force the outside quadrant of the field, make people defend it. Run those slants. Josh was running a lot of slants inside and be big and catch the ball and run with it and obviously had Brady’s trust. That’s going to be a challenge.”

After back-to-back losses, the Patriots now sit at 9-5 and in third place in the AFC. New England will need to win out and get some help in order to secure a first-round bye or the Patriots will be playing on Wild Card Weekend for the first time since 2009 when they were dusted by the Baltimore Ravens.

The Patriots’ offense, even with Gordon, struggled last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers and they’ll face a formidable defense Sunday when they welcome the Buffalo Bills to Gillette Stadium.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images