ATLANTA — Phillip Dorsett saw the opportunity he had in front of him.
Five days before Christmas, news broke that Josh Gordon, whose presence had shoved Dorsett to the bottom of the New England Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart over the previous two months, would be taking a leave of absence from the team to focus on his mental health.
Shortly after, it became clear that Gordon’s leave coincided with an indefinite suspension that had been handed down from the NFL, all but erasing any chance the wideout would play another game for the Patriots this season.
The Patriots take the “next man up” philosophy seriously. In this case, Dorsett was that next man.
“I would just say I knew I had to step up,” Dorsett said Tuesday from a podium at the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII hotel. “Because in order for us to be here, somebody had to step up.”
Dorsett was a non-factor in the first game following Gordon’s departure (no catches, two carries in a Week 16 win over the Buffalo Bills) but has made important contributions in each game since.
He caught five passes on five targets for 34 yards and one touchdown in a Week 17 pounding of the New York Jets, then hauled in four catches on five targets for 41 yards and another score in New England’s divisional-round beatdown of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Dorsett finished with just one reception on three targets in last Sunday’s overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, but it went for a 29-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first half.
“I knew my opportunity was going to have to come,” said the 26-year-old, who will play in his second Super Bowl on Sunday when the Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “They were going to call on me, and I just had to step up. And I was prepared for it. I prepared the whole time for it when I wasn’t playing, and at the end of the day, I was ready for it.”
Dorsett’s playing time also has increased dramatically with Gordon out of the picture. Serving as New England’s No. 3 receiver behind Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, he’s been on the field for an average of 35 offensive snaps per game over the last four contests after averaging just 8.6 snaps per game during Gordon’s short-lived stint as a Patriots starter.
“It is what it is,” Dorsett said. “I couldn’t do anything about (my lack of playing time). That’s just football. Stuff happens. We’re here now, and I wouldn’t sit here and say that we would be here without (Gordon). I don’t know. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. Can’t do anything about it.
“I just stayed in it, I stayed ready, I prepared like I was a starter, and when they called upon me, I just tried to make a play.”
Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images