BEREA: This isn’t the first time in Josh Gordon’s 21 years that someone has suggested he’s a natural receiver.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that and I couldn’t really understand it,” Gordon said Monday. “I tell them that’s just how I play.”
That talk was ignited again Sunday when Gordon turned in his best game with career-highs in receptions (six) and yards (116) and scored a 44-yard touchdown in the Browns’ 20-17 road victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Gordon became the first Brown to catch five or more touchdown passes in a single season since 2007, when receiver Braylon Edwards had 16 and tight end Kellen Winslow five. Gordon also became the first Browns rookie to hit that number since Andre’ Davis scored six in 2002.
Going into Monday night, Gordon was tied for 16th in the league with 12 catches of 20 or more yards. He leads that category when only rookies are considered.
But Browns coach Pat Shurmur wasn’t so sure about calling the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon “The Natural,” either.
“He’s big and he’s fast and he can catch. Those are three things let’s all assume he was born with,” Shurmur said. “But all the rest of it needs to be developed. I think it’s a mixture of both. You’ve always got to determine what’s down in here [points to heart] and then what’s up in here [points to head] and how that all plays together. There are a lot of big, strong, fast guys walking the streets who cannot play receiver in the NFL.”
Gordon jerseys might be flying off the shelves for Christmas gifts, but the post-Raider buzz wasn’t just about Gordon.
Mohamed Massaquoi, plagued by a hamstring injury this season that has limited him to seven games, pulled in a 54-yard pass, his longest since Sept. 11, 2011. Massaquoi, who has just 15 catches this season, added another for 6 yards.
Greg Little contributed four receptions for 48 yards, but his best moment came on Massaquoi’s catch-and-run in the third quarter. Little blindsided safety Tyvon Branch with a clean, crushing block, which helped set up a 28-yard Phil Dawson field-goal attempt that was blocked.
“Greg’s had several of those all year,” Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “That’s the way he plays. He’s a physical guy who can really block. It was a big play.”
Shurmur added, “Greg is a tough guy and Greg loves to play the game. Those are the kind of things he can do.”
Winning four of their past seven games, it appears the Browns (4-8) are finally coming together. That seems especially true of the receiving corps. Little leads Browns wide receivers with 35 catches for 408 yards (11.7 average) and two touchdowns. Gordon has 34 catches for 646 yards (19.0), third in the league amongst players with 20 or more catches.
Shurmur believes that’s because the Browns have established their top four receivers — Gordon, Little, Massaquoi and speedy rookie Travis Benjamin. Josh Cribbs is playing only special teams and Weeden’s Oklahoma State teammate Josh Cooper has been inactive three of the past four weeks.
“We don’t have as much of a rotation and flopping going on at the receiver position because we’ve kind of established who our guys are,” Shurmur said. “As roles get established, they tend to play better.”
Gordon and Little seem like the perfect complement, both in their different styles and how they force opposing defenses to adjust.
“At times when we’re both in they may play the safeties a little deeper or maybe closer to my side,” Gordon said. “They’re being cautious of me going over the top with the deep play. They kind of leave the middle open for the underneath routes, the routes that Greg can make good possession catches for first downs and a lot of good gains. Either way, it’s hard for a defense to focus on one of us.”
Yet the focus has been on Gordon, for many reasons. The Browns gave up a second-round pick in 2013 to select him in the supplemental draft despite multiple marijuana issues in his past. He didn’t play after transferring from Baylor to Utah in 2011.
With the Browns, Gordon started slowly, with seven receptions in the first four games. He dropped a pass at the goal line in Indianapolis as the Browns lost 17-13.
But since the Colts game, Gordon has emerged as the go-to receiver the Browns have been seeking since Edwards was traded in October 2009.
“A situation like that, you can’t let it linger too long, especially in a game like this,” Gordon said of his drop in Indianapolis. “You can’t keep dwelling on the things in the past that held you back. You move forward and get better and gain more confidence with each game.”
Shurmur acknowledged Gordon’s improvement, but he wants to see more.
“He came here not in shape. He came here not knowing the offense. He came here not knowing our quarterback. He came here not knowing the tempo of this game,” Shurmur said. “I guess he came here not knowing what a real grind this is for a player who wants to make an impact. He’s making progress.”
It might look like the Browns are expanding the playbook with Gordon, but Gordon said that’s because he’s running sharper routes, not different ones. He might be on the verge of stardom, but Gordon doesn’t feel that way.
“Being out of football for a whole year and coming to the NFL, it’s a huge difference for me,” he said. “I know I’ve got a long way to go. But I’m definitely making strides.”
Shurmur on future
Some believe the Browns’ improvement might help Shurmur’s chances of staying next season. New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner will evaluate everyone after the season.
Asked if he thought he would get a fair review, Shurmur said, “No. 1, I don’t want to talk about my future. And No. 2, I’m trying to make this the best Monday of the year. I’m trying to get our team ready to play the Chiefs. I don’t look at it that way. I really don’t. I’m not taking any half-swings here. We’ll just play it out and see what happens.”
Tough times in Kansas City
Shurmur expressed sympathy for Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, the former Browns coach, and the Chiefs players after linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend then committed suicide Saturday. The Chiefs (2-10) visit the Browns on Sunday.
“I can only imagine what Romeo and his staff and the players … I guess I don’t want to imagine what they went through,” Shurmur said. “But you can see what happens when a group of guys bind together for some reason. They played an outstanding football game and won.
“We play these games on Sunday, but there’s some real- life tragic stuff happening around us all the time and it’s very thought-provoking and sad in some ways. But we have to keep moving forward and keep trying to do the right thing.”
Shurmur said the Browns were going to throw to Little on the next play after Massaquoi’s 54-yard catch, but Little was poked in the eye and needed attention on the sideline. That forced the Browns to call timeout with 3:27 left in the third quarter. … Shurmur called Buster Skrine’s 15-yard penalty for fair catch interference on a punt return “an aggressive play.” … With Usama Young inactive with a concussion, rookie free safety Tashaun Gipson got his most snaps of the year and “played a pretty fine game,” Shurmur said.
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