FOXBORO – When you look inside the Patriots locker room and see leaders like Matthew Slater, Tom Brady, Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower, it’s a safe assumption that most players fall in line and do the right thing the right way.
That’s what the Patriots thought would happen with Antonio Brown. That’s why they took the chance on him back on Sept. 7 after the Raiders released him.
After all, they saw how Josh Gordon and Jamie Collins and reinvigorated their careers in New England on the 2019 Patriots and saw the work ethic both have demonstrated and figured it would be the same story with Brown.
If only Brown could’ve been what Gordon and Collins and have turned into for these Patriots.
Gordon caught six balls Sunday, including pair of acrobatic beauties, overcame a hard fall on his backside and lower back and an ugly right hand run-in with the facemask of Nate Hairston to show he’s not only talented he’s damn tough, too. After jamming his right hand, he returned the game to convert an amazing, leaping grab of a Tom Brady lob to the left sideline on third-and-22 from the Jets 32.
“I’m just really glad he still had faith in me throughout the course of the game to keep dinging it my way,” Gordon told me. “I think with each opportunity, at some point in time, you know that it’s going to hit. I’m glad he saw me on the back side there and a converted type of a route versus their cover 2 look. I just had enough space to make a play on the ball at that point in time and try to stay in, and I really just wanted to make a play and move the sticks and keep us out there a little bit longer and try to win the game.”
But the bigger point was his team-first attitude post-game Sunday. He knows just how big his role could be know with no Antonio Brown and Julian Edelman dinged up a bit from Sunday.
“I think it’s way too early for me to be feeling any type of comfortability, from a standpoint of being content,” Gordon said. “I’m very ambitious; I think this team is. Expectations are high. I want to continue to try to climb that ladder and reach those personal and team goals together. It’s way too soon. I think there’s a lot left out there that we left on the table this afternoon that I think we wish we could have had back. So, moving forward, I think we need to try to capitalize and continue to stay focused in those critical moments of the game.
“I think the mindset going into every game as a wide receiver is to attack the ball ferociously. You can’t come down with all of them, but the ones that you’ve got a good chance of grabbing, you better try to grab it as best you can.”
“We call that War Daddy Deluxe because he was out there taking hits, dislocating or whatever he did to his finger, I’m assuming it wasn’t good. He showed a lot of toughness today,” Matthew Slater laughed when speaking of Gordon’s ability to come back twice into the game after injury.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 22, 2019
Everyone knows the story of Gordon by now. The Patriots see the good in Gordon after several falls in his personal life. But the team is convinced that he’s doing his best to finally address his personal demons of addiction.
Jamie Collins left New England under difference circumstances in 2016. He was considered a me-first player who was uniquely gifted but didn’t always put the team first. That has image has changed this time around.
Collins, the game-destroying linebacker, continued his defensive renaissance with a pair of sacks and another incredibly disruptive day in the face of the opposing quarterback to help the Patriots defense post its best statistical game of the Bill Belichick era, allowing the Jets offense no touchdowns and just 105 yards of total offense all game.
“Yeah, that’s pretty damn good,” Collins said. “We just go out there and play for keeps. We are playing to win.”
“When you become one of the older guys and see young guys come in and develop – you know Jamie came in and didn’t play a ton on defense when he was early in his rookie year. Then in the playoffs he came in and played big, and ever since that he’s been just showing up, making plays. He leaves for a couple years, comes back, and it’s the same Jamie,” Devin McCourty told me. “We didn’t lose sync with him, I think, as players. It’s been great to have him back. And then I think his ability, but he’s another guy, he works his butt off in practice. He practices hard, he communicates well, he does all of those little things, and you match that together with his athletic ability and that’s what you see out there on Sunday. Him playing fast, making plays.”
Asked about his role, Collins was humble.
“I have 10 other great guys out there,” he said. “It’s not just me out there and all those guys can make plays. They make my job easy.”
Gordon and Collins were two huge reasons the Patriots enjoyed a 30-14 cakewalk over the Jets at Gillette Stadium to improve to 3-0 on the season.
The stark contrast of what Collins and Gordon are and what Brown could’ve been started to reveal itself pregame when the exiled receiver took rips at the NFL, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former QB Ben Roethlisberger in a Twitter meltdown, adding that he was done playing in the NFL.
Gordon and Collins were busy preparing themselves to be ready to play football.
You could see the joy in the face of Matthew Slater as he was talking about both Gordon and Collins postgame Sunday.
“He’s the man now. He’s got a family,” Slater said. “It’s not just Jamie anymore. He represents a lot of people, his wife, his little guy and I think when you have family it changes your perspective on life. Those of us who have family know that. I think it’s been a really good change for him. Jamie and I have always had a really good relationship but it’s really cool to see a guy come in as a kid and now be a man. I think that’s the thing I enjoy the most. He’s always been a great football player so that hasn’t changed. It’s great to see him serve in that role as husband and father.
“It’s exciting. To me, that’s what this is all about. I approach this as a relationship business and football has given me the platform to build a lot of great friendships and relationships over the years, and to see people have personal success in their personal lives is really rewarding, it really is, and it goes well beyond the game of football. This game is temporary. All of us have an expiration date but you want to see guys excel off the football field and you want to see guys do well in their personal lives as lead their families, as they raise children, as they develop roots. It’s really exciting to see those two individuals we’re talking about doing as well as they’re doing.”
Meanwhile, when asked about the departed Brown, Slater took the high road as he always does. No one travels that path better.
“I wish him well. I wish everyone involved well. I’m never the type of person to wish ill will on anyone. I always try to take a positive spin on things. That’s kind of where I’m going to leave it.”
If only Antonio Brown could’ve had a recording of Matthew Slater in his car, in his house, in his bedroom 24/7, maybe that would’ve helped. At this point for the Patriots, it’s not about slings and arrows on social media anymore, it’s just about wishing someone well and carrying on with those still in the Patriots family.
The lesson from the last two weeks for the Patriots: They need more humility like Gordon and Collins and no more drama. Just ask Matthew Slater, he’ll be happy to confirm that.