As far as returns go, Josh Gordon’s certainly could have been a whole lot worse. The embattled Cleveland Browns wide receiver suited up yesterday evening for the first time in three years for a game in the regular season and caught four passes for 85 yards to lead all on the team, with the second-most in the game.
That is certainly a much bigger story than the fact that the Browns just lost their 12th game of the season in 12 tries, because, well, that’s just what we expect this point. It is far from unreasonable to think that they become just the second team in NFL history to post a 0-16 season. And if they do so, they will complete the worst two-season span of all time.
But hey, Josh Gordon caught some passes, so there is that. And rookie tight end David Njoku has continued to look like he will be a player. Really, he already is. While he has had some slim stat lines recently, he caught four passes for 74 yards and a touchdown yesterday, and now has 28 receptions for 332 yards and four touchdowns.
But, for obvious reasons, it was Gordon who was the story. The 2012 second-round pick in the supplemental draft flashed enormous talent in 2013, leading the league in receiving that year despite being suspended the first two games and being named first-team All-Pro before his career was derailed.
What everybody is now wondering is if he is back on the rails. I’m sure his performance in this game will be dissected over the course of the week, but this is just the beginning, the first step on his road back as a legitimate threat at wide receiver in the National Football League, the game at the highest level.
The Browns said that they would go into the game featuring him, and they did. He was the target of the first play of the game, a designed pass in his direction that went for nine yards. In all, he was targeted 11 times by rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who, by the way, only completed 15 of his 32 pass attempts.
While I have not yet had the opportunity to go through the game and analyze each one of his targets—so I don’t know what role he might have played in those incompletions, such as drops, poor routes, etc.—it’s pretty clear that they had a plan to get him involved.
Kizer looked for him on deep targets a number of times throughout the game, and he did connect on a couple of them, resulting in games of 28 yards and 39 yards, the latter coming on the final drive of the game, which they ultimately lost 19-10.
It will be interesting to see what Gordon looks like by the time the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Browns again in the regular season finale. By then, hopefully, Pittsburgh will have nothing to play for, but I’m sure many will be happy to see Gordon back on the field. He may even be covered by his former teammate, Joe Haden.