By Nate Ulrich
and Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports writers
MINNEAPOLIS: As Josh Gordon got ready for his 2013 regular-season debut Sunday morning, ESPN reported that the Browns are fielding trade offers and are open to dealing him and fellow wide receiver Greg Little.
The Browns traded running back Trent Richardson last week, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the new regime continues to wheel and deal players it didn’t draft. Gordon, though, heard about the report before kickoff and became determined to convince the organization’s decision-makers that they shouldn’t ship him to another team.
“It was definitely that sense of a feeling,” said Gordon, whom the previous regime picked in the second round of last year’s supplemental draft. “I wanted to go out there and prove myself.”
After serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Gordon made his presence felt in a major way Sunday. He established career highs with 10 catches for 146 yards in the Browns’ 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at the Metrodome.
Gordon beat cornerback A.J. Jefferson with a double move, broke free and caught a 47-yard touchdown from quarterback Brian Hoyer with 4:42 left in the opening quarter. During the Browns’ game-winning touchdown drive, Gordon caught three of Hoyer’s six completions for gains of 11, 3 and 10 yards. Gordon had the most receptions by a Browns wide receiver since Kevin Johnson had 11 catches against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 21, 2003, and he’s now tied for seventh for the most catches by a Browns player in a single game.
Compensating for his absence in the first two games was the goal all along.
“That’s how I saw it from the beginning, from the start of the suspension,” said Gordon, who added a 22-yard run on an end around in the second quarter. “I knew this week was going to have to be a huge week for me.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that at least one team has made a quality offer for Gordon. And ESPN contributor Adam Caplan reported that Gordon has been on the trading block for several weeks, and that it’s very clear Browns CEO Joe Banner wants him out.
Gordon, though, would like to stay.
“I always want to stay here and be a Cleveland Brown and help this organization as much as possible,” said Gordon, who could face a one-year banishment from the NFL is he violates its drug policy again. “I love the offense, love [offensive coordinator] Norv and coach [Rob Chudzinski]. I’m learning a lot. From a wide receiver standpoint, it’s the best offense to be in, and I can’t complain at all.
“It’s a business. So [a trade] can happen at any given time. Whatever decision is made, that’s above me.
“You’ve got to got out there and play. If you’re going to go out there and not be focused, you might get your head knocked off. So I had to go out there and stand between the lines.”
Chudzinski’s aggressive game plan was evident on special teams as the Browns turned a fake punt and a fake field goal into 10 points.
“[Special teams coordinator] Chris Tabor does a great job of preparing and coming up with ideas for those things,” Chudzinski said. “We’re going to play that way. We’re going to be aggressive in any situation. I think our guys relished that. They rallied to that.”
With 8:05 left in the second quarter and facing fourth-and-1 at their own 38-yard line, the Browns lined up in a punt formation but snapped the ball to upback Josh Aubrey. The rookie safety ran 34 yards, which set up a 38-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
“The play was made for like a 2-yard gain,” Aubrey said. “We were going to run it regardless. Then, for some reason the end went out and the tackle went in and it left a big old crease right down the C gap. Soon as I saw that I just took off.
“I was thinking, ‘Did this just really happen? Did it open up just like that?’”
The Browns struck again on their next possession. On fourth-and-4 from the Vikings’ 11, Cundiff lined up for a 29-yard field-goal attempt. But tight end Jordan Cameron lined up on the far right side and was shocked to find himself uncovered. So punter/holder Spencer Lanning threw him the ball for an 11-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 24-14 lead with 3:39 remaining before halftime.
“If they covered it, we were going to bring it back in,” Lanning said. “You try to get set so nobody sees it. They gave us the look we wanted and we got a good snap, a good throw and JC made a good catch.
“The only thing I was thinking was not over-throwing him. I didn’t want to zip it out there. We’ve seen guys around the league run the same play and overthrow the guy.”
Said Cameron: “That’s something we’ve been working on the past couple of weeks. I was hoping they didn’t see me out there. Luckily we got it. I almost got tackled at the 1, which would be embarrassing. But we made it work.”
Asked if it is almost tougher to make a catch when he’s so wide open, Cameron said, “Oh, it is the worst. You think, ‘Come on and get here already!’”
Lanning said the only other pass he’s thrown came at the University of South Carolina. He’s now 2-for-2.
Tight end shines
Third-year tight end Jordan Cameron tied a Browns record with three touchdown receptions. Besides the fake field goal, Cameron hauled in scoring passes of 19 and 7 yards, the latter the game-winner. He was targeted 11 times and finished with six receptions for 66 yards.
“Everyone believes they can make plays in this league,” Cameron said. “My confidence is gaining each week with the reps that I’m getting.”
It marked the 11th time a Browns player had tallied three receiving touchdowns, the last was Braylon Edwards against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 14, 2007. The only other tight end was Steve Heiden against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 28, 2004.
Cameron leads the Browns with 269 receiving yards this season, surpassing his career high 226 yards in 2012.
Asked the toughest of his touchdown catches, Cameron picked the first, for 19 yards.
“Brian put the ball where no one else could get it,” Cameron said. “It was a great throw and I kind of had to patter my feet.”
Late in the second quarter, the Browns’ Travis Benjamin muffed a punt and tried to catch the ball after it bounced off the turf but couldn’t gain control. Vikings linebacker Larry Dean picked up the ball and ran into the end zone, but the officials ruled that the ball could not be advanced because the punt had been muffed.
“They can’t advance it,” referee Bill Leavy said after the game. “If he possessed the kick and then fumbled, the ball could be advanced.”
The officials then penalized Vikings coach Leslie Frazier 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct because he tried to challenge a play that had already been reviewed by replay official Larry Nemmers. Leavy conceded that because of a new rule, the Vikings should have been charged a timeout instead of assessed a 15-yard penalty for trying to challenge.
As a result of the penalty, the Vikings faced first-and-25 at the Browns’ 41-yard line instead of first-and-10 at the Browns’ 26. Three plays later, they settled for Blair Walsh’s 43-yard field goal that trimmed the Vikings’ deficit to 24-17 with 1:08 left in the second quarter.
Joe Thomas safe?
On Friday, Browns six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said virtually no one in the locker room is safe from being traded, including himself. But Michael Silver of NFL Network reported Sunday that several teams have inquired about dealing for Thomas, but the Browns have told them that he’s not on the trading block.
“I guess it’s not a huge revelation, but if somebody in the building said that, maybe that’s a worthy news item,” Thomas said. “On game day we don’t really see any of that stuff. I’m not a Twitter guy, anyway, but maybe if you look at Twitter you see that. I didn’t notice, but I’m not surprised.”
Thomas said he had not heard anything like that from a member of the Browns’ front office.
“No. There’s so much smoke signals in this league, anyway,” he said. “Like when you’re in the draft and somebody says ‘Hey, we’re going to take you if you’re available.’ If somebody said ‘Hey, you’re not going to get traded,’ how much can you really trust them anyway?”
Thomas nearly knocked over defensive end Desmond Bryant with a vicious chest bump after Bryant’s game-ending sack of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. Thomas said some of his exuberance came from seeing 7-month-old daughter Logan in the stands with his wife, Annie.
“It was my daughter’s first game, I was pretty emotional about that,” Thomas said. “That will probably be her only game of the year. That was pretty special.”
Starting right outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard suffered a sprained knee with 10:44 left in the third quarter when he recovered an Adrian Peterson fumble that was forced by inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Sheard, who had three tackles (two solos), a sack and a forced fumble, left the stadium on crutches.
Defensive end Billy Winn limped off late in the second quarter with strained quad. Kicker Billy Cundiff was bothered by quad tightness and would not have been able to attempt a game-tying field goal in the final seconds had he been needed, Chudzinski said. Cundiff kicked an extra point with 3:39 left in the second quarter and the ensuing kickoff was his last appearance. Lanning kicked the extra point after the game-winning touchdown.
Willis McGahee’s debut
Running back Willis McGahee, signed on Thursday to replace Richardson, was thrown into the fire. McGahee, who hadn’t played since Week 11 last season with the Denver Broncos, rushed eight times for 9 yards.
“I was rusty. No training camp, nothing,” McGahee said. “One of the players welcomed me back to the NFL, [No.] 50, when I got bull rushed.” That resulted in a sack by Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson in the third quarter.
The Browns rushed for 103 net yards, but 56 yards of that came on Aubrey’s run and Gordon’s 22-yard end around.
“I think we did a good job,” McGahee said. “It’s going to take time. The more I work at it, the more I catch up with those guys, I can help out a lot more.”
Little took over at kickoff returner for Bobby Rainey and had one return for 26 yards. He was not available after the game for comment on ESPN’s report that he’s on the trading block. … ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Browns covet Houston Texans running back Ben Tate, who is scheduled to become a free agent in March. … The Browns held Peterson to 88 yards on 25 carries and one touchdown, a 2-yard run. … ESPN analyst Mike Ditka on the Richardson trade: “It validates the stupidity of the Browns’ front office.” … The Browns had six sacks. Defensive end Desmond Bryant tallied a sack for the seventh consecutive game. Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo recorded his second sack in as many games. … Jackson finished with a game-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble. … Strong safety T.J. Ward had his first interception this season and the fourth of his career. ... Inside linebacker Craig Robertson deflected the pass that Ward intercepted and added four tackles and a fumble recovery.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.