If this morning's revelation by Josh Gordon took you by surprise – that the wide receiver is "stepping away from the football field for a bit," as he characterized it in an announcement via his Twitter account – you're not alone. Some of his Patriots teammates admit they were equally caught off-guard.
"I felt bad for him. The way you guys felt when you heard it," safety/co-captain Devin McCourty told reporters Thursday afternoon, "was how most of us probably felt. I would say that sums it up."
"Certainly something that you're not expecting," echoed special teams co-captain Matthew Slater.
Gordon, who has struggled with substance abuse and been disciplined by the NFL as a result a number of times in the past, vaguely referenced having to address his "mental health" as the reason for his abrupt departure from the Patriots.
Teammates today expressed sympathy for Gordon's predicament while praising him for what he brought to the club since his arrival via trade from Cleveland in September.
"It's a personal situation. I'll let Josh speak for himself on that," remarked center/co-captain David Andrews. "I wish him all the best. He was a great teammate and a great guy to me."
"He was a great teammate, great guy," maintained cornerback Stephon Gilmore. "You just try to pray a lot and hope the best for him… I wish the best for him."
"First and foremost, my prayers are with Josh and my concern is with him and what he's dealing with, whatever that may be," added Slater. "He was a good teammate – worked hard, tried his best to put the team first, did everything that he was asked to do while he was here… There's so much more to us as people that a lot of people don't get a chance to see. We all deal with our own issues... that's life. It's always important for us to have a healthy understanding of that and have perspective on that, that life is so much bigger than football. Certainly, that's the case here. We want to be conscious of that as we support Josh.".
"We all care for him," McCourty emphasized. "He was a great teammate. Worked his butt off while he was here. We wish him the best personally. Football comes and goes. We're used to, I guess, adversity when it comes to just playing football – lose a guy to injury, a guy can't play in a game, whatever that is – but life comes before all of that. We wish him the best and care about that more than wins and losses."
That said, the Patriots must remain concerned about winning a game this Sunday against Buffalo, one that would accomplish a goal that has eluded them the past two weeks: Wrap up the AFC East crown and catapult New England into the playoffs. Without Gordon, the team still has to prepare and be ready to take on the Bills with hopes of reversing their two-game skid.
"Guys have to step up, continue to get better, step in and play in that role," said defensive end Trey Flowers, "but it's nothing new. If you lose a guy to injury, you've got to do the same thing – next man up. If you lose a guy to anything personal, you do the same thing."
"Unfortunately, we had those hiccups," Andrews acknowledged. "It's the NFL season, it has its ups and downs. … It hasn't been what we wanted the last few weeks, but there's nothing we can do to go back and change those results. The only thing we can do is control what we can control, and that's what we're trying to do – come in here, work hard this week, and put it all together on Sunday. We keep doing that, who knows where this thing goes.
"There's a lot of fight in this team. We've got a lot of prideful guys in this locker room. We still have tons to play for."
"Play football. Just keep playing," added McCourty. "We realize the task we have at hand Sunday, a game we feel is a must-win, coming off back-to-back losses. That remains the focus of the team."
"We've had a good week of practice, another big day tomorrow," Gilmore concluded, "and before you know it, we'll be playing on Sunday. I'm looking forward to it."