New England Patriots

Dec 16, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA: New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and wide receiver Chris Hogan react before taking the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan react before taking the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

If there’s a silver lining to the Patriots suddenly losing Josh Gordon, it’s that the wide receiver depth chart looks different than how it has all season. This could be hard to predict.

Gordon is facing yet another indefinite suspension, reportedly violating the terms of his 2017 reinstatement under the NFL’s substance abuse policy. His mental health is obviously the No. 1 thing for Gordon moving forward. But the unfortunate reality is that the Patriots spent the past 11 games building trust in him as a major piece of the wide receiver corps, and now he’s no longer with the team.

As a result, the Patriots enter Week 16 with a receiver group that hasn’t looked like this since the start of 2018. The Patriots first dressed Gordon in Week 4 against the Miami Dolphins, the final game of Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension. So for the first time all season, the Patriots are looking at a corps of Julian Edelman, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett to turn to at wideout.

Edelman hasn’t been dominant in his first season back from a torn ACL and suspension, but he’s been himself in terms of being a fairly reliable inside receiver. Through 10 games, he’s averaging 6.3 catches and 71.1 yards per game while scoring four touchdowns. Now that Gordon’s out of the mix, he’ll be counted on more than ever. Despite a sloppy game against the Steelers that included two dropped passes and two penalties on consecutive plays, Edelman is a hard guy to bet against.

Patterson has predictably been an inconsistent option as a receiver, after being just that for his entire career leading up to New England. Though it’s tough to get excited about the prospects of him being the No. 2 receiver, Patterson has shown a willingness to do whatever the team asks of him and his teammates have consistently complimented him for his unselfishness and hard work. He can’t be ruled out as a contributor on offense down the stretch.

Chris Hogan has been strangely uninvolved in the Pats offense all season, after entering 2018 as the perceived No. 1 option with Edelman suspended. He’s had more than four catches or targets just once all season, a six-catch, 63-yard performance against the Bears in which three of his catches came on a single drive.

Oct 21, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) reacts with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (84) during the first half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Hogan’s 63-yard touchdown against the Steelers shows that he can still execute plays the way Tom Brady wants, but he was also literally the most wide-open receiver all season on that play. If there were ever a time that Hogan needed to step up once and for all, that time is now.

Phillip Dorsett’s lack of playing time has been even more unusual, considering how productive he was early in the season. He caught 16 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in his first four games as a fine complementary receiver for the offense. He showed an ability to run routes that few other receivers have for this team in recent years.

Dorsett averaged 51.2 snaps per game in Weeks 1-5. That plummeted to 8.6 snaps per game in the past nine, as Gordon carved out a bigger role for himself. Dorsett will almost certainly get his regular workload back now that Gordon is gone.

The Pats may very well bring in another receiver off the street, or add practice squad WR Damoun Patterson to the main roster. But essentially, the aforementioned four receivers are your group. This is what Brady will have to work with as the Pats look to clinch the AFC East on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, with an eye toward going on a run for a sixth Super Bowl title.

It’s certainly not ideal, and an unfortunate setback for an offense that appeared to find an efficient way to use Gordon in tandem with the other weapons. But they’re also a different corps from what the team has fielded all season. Can’t rule out that these guys may be the right mix this offense has been looking for over these first 14 games.

Still, it’s hard to be optimistic about a receiver group that’s almost the same as it was entering the season. It’s the biggest makeover since 2013, and definitely a factor in Brady and the entire offense taking a step back from 2017. It’s time to see whether losing Gordon is their death rattle, or a galvanizing moment in an unusually trying season for the Patriots.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.