FOXBOROUGH — When Josh Gordon was lifted from the Steelers game before the Patriots’ final play last Sunday, the receiver never stopped when he reached the sideline.
Gordon never turned around to watch the final snap play out as Tom Brady fired one last pass to the end zone in an attempt to tie the game.
As it turns out, that may be the lasting image of Gordon in a Patriots uniform as the team’s leading receiver took to social media Thursday morning to announce he was stepping away from the game.
It was a preemptive strike by Gordon, who was later given an indefinite suspension by the NFL.
According to an NFL spokesman, “Effective today, Josh Gordon has been returned to Reserve/Commissioner Suspended list for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.’’
The designation means the Patriots now have an open spot on their 53-man roster. The players’ union did not respond to a request for comment on Gordon’s suspension.
It’s the fourth time in his career Gordon has been slapped with a league suspension for substance abuse issues. He was suspended for two games in 2013, for the entire 2014 season (later reduced to 10 games), and an indefinite suspension in 2015 (which turned out to be 20 games).
Gordon took to social media to unveil the news of his sabbatical, thanking coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft for giving him a chance.
Gordon’s full post:
“I take my mental health very seriously at this point to ensure I remain able to perform at the highest level. I recently felt like I could have a better grasp on things mentally. I will be stepping away from the football field for a bit to focus on my mental health. I would like to thank Coach Belichick, Mr. Kraft, as well as the countless others in the Patriots organization for their continued support. I want to thank my fans for their support as well as I continue down the path getting back to 100%.’’
In addition, Gordon’s former girlfriend, Dylan Gonzalez, took to Instagram and indicated the couple broke up because Gordon had cheated on her. She also offered her support with a picture that read:
“As hurt as I was, this hurts so much more . . . contact is severed but I will be here for you . . . I am here for you. Please pray with me for him . . . Please.”
In a caption accompanying the photo she added, in part, “But God is with you . . . I am with you; you will get through this. Please pray with me . . . #JG.”
Following the loss to the Steelers, Gordon, who had just one catch and two targets, declined to speak to the media — the first time he’s done that since making his season debut against the Dolphins in Week 4.
Asked about the decision to go with Cordarrelle Patterson instead of Gordon for the final play, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said there was “no ulterior motive on that at all . . . Just put a fresh guy in to go ahead and do something on the last play to see if we could get into the end zone.’’
Gordon was at Wednesday’s practice and made a brief appearance in the locker room but did not speak to reporters.
Gordon was acquired via trade along with a seventh-round pick from the Browns in exchange for a fifth-round pick Sept. 17. He has been consistent in his praise of how he’s been treated and supported since arriving in New England, saying it felt like “home” almost from the moment he arrived.
“The atmosphere is very welcoming,’’ he said earlier this month. “It took me a little bit to get acclimated to the area. Other than that, it’s been pretty smooth so far, and that’s due in part to the facility, the organization, just everybody helping me along the way.’’
Gordon’s teammates, including veteran leaders Tom Brady and Devin McCourty, have marveled at how quickly he fit in both on the field and in the locker room.
“[I’ve] just really enjoyed our time together,’’ Brady said last week. “We spend so much time here. We’re here until late at night, early in the morning. We’re on the field, [we’re] watching film and so forth. It’s been great. I can’t say enough great things.’’
McCourty said shortly after Gordon arrived that it didn’t take long for him “to become one of the guys.’’
Gordon had spent a lot of time early on with Patriots character coach Jack Easterby. The two often were seen chatting on the field at practices and during pregame warm-ups.
The absence leaves the Patriots without one of their top weapons for the stretch run. Gordon has 40 catches for a team-high 720 yards. He averages 18 yards per catch and 65 yards per game.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pounder is one the most physically imposing receivers in the league, combining great size and speed.
Gordon’s production will be replaced by a bunch of players, including Phillip Dorsett, whose playing time took the biggest hit when Gordon arrived.
Dorsett was playing 80 percent of the snaps during the first three weeks of the season, but that has fallen to 15 percent since. Dorsett has 27 catches for 256 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.