By Ryan Lewis
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon caught three passes for 67 yards and a touchdown Sunday, which suggests he put together another productive game in the midst of a record-breaking season, the franchise’s best for a player at his position.
But the stat sheet is deceiving because Gordon was almost a non-factor in the 38-31 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium.
He was held without a catch in the first half after he averaged more than 10 catches a game in the past three weeks. Until a 43-yard touchdown reception with the game already out of reach, barring a recovery of an onside kick, Gordon led the team with nine targets but had just two catches for 24 yards.
Gordon is arguably on the cusp of super-stardom, leading the NFL in receiving yards despite only playing in 12 games. But until that garbage-time touchdown, running backs Edwin Baker and Chris Ogbonnaya each had more catches and receiving yards.
Gordon was involved in a car accident Saturday while on his way to a team meeting, though he didn’t blame it for his quiet performance. Gordon was a passenger in his SUV when a vehicle in front of his lost control, causing his SUV to swerve, team spokesman Zak Gilbert said. Gilbert said that as far as he knows, there were no injuries. Gordon still attended the team meeting and was medically cleared to play.
“The weather happened,” Gordon said. “Whenever it’s life-threatening, it’s scary. I wasn’t driving. It was just an accident. It has nothing to do with the game.”
Gordon was frustrated that he didn’t get the ball early in the game. He was also frustrated because he thought the Bears weren’t doing anything special to stop him. He and quarterback Jason Campbell just couldn’t connect.
“Not at all, that’s the surprising part,” Gordon said when asked if the Bears did anything different in coverage. “They played basic cover-two. We just missed plays. It was a pretty basic-looking defense, probably one of the easiest ones we’ve seen.”
Gordon had almost no reaction as he scored his touchdown with 59 seconds remaining. He became the first Browns player to score a touchdown in five consecutive games since Paul Warfield in 1976.
Still, as Gordon crossed the goal line, he only dropped his head and walked back to the sideline.
He did, however, react by throwing his hands in the air during the previous drive when Campbell’s low pass to him on third-and-10 fell incomplete.
“Just frustration, drive after drive not getting what we should’ve gotten done in the first half and seeing that carry over into the second half,” Gordon said. “It’s very disappointing.”
As for Gordon’s car accident, his teammates were relieved he wasn’t seriously hurt.
When told about the accident, inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson said: “I almost cussed. That’s news to me. I would’ve been concerned if I knew about that. I didn’t know that. Jesus. Oh my, gosh. It is slick out there.”
Browns cornerback Joe Haden left the game with 4:16 left in the third quarter with what coach Rob Chudzinski called a hip pointer. Haden did not return to the game.
During a running play, Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod got out ahead of running back Michael Bush for a block. Bushrod’s left knee hit Haden’s left hip.
Haden’s absence forced rookie Leon McFadden and Julian Posey to man the outside cornerback positions with Buster Skrine sliding inside to the slot in the nickel package. The Bears ran three full drives with Haden out of the game and scored touchdowns all three times.
“Joe Haden is a great player. It hurt to see him go down,” strong safety T.J. Ward said. “When guys come in, they just have to step up. They’re a part of our defense. We expect them to make plays when they come in, and for the most part, I think they did a good job.”
Chudzinski said the team would find out more about the severity of Haden’s injury today.
“I’ve never seen [Haden] not play,” Jackson said. “I’ve always looked to my left, looked to my right and saw the 2-3 out there. What I hear, he’s going to be OK. You hate to see a guy like that go down because we will miss him, but hopefully he’ll be back.”
Safeties Tashaun Gipson and Ward each had big days for the Browns. Gipson intercepted two passes and returned one of them 44 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Ward returned a fumble 51 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. It’s Ward’s second touchdown this season after he returned an interception 44 yards for a score against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 3.
The Browns returned an interception and a fumble recovery for a touchdown for the first time since Sept. 10, 1989, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But it was the play that wasn’t made — a 45-yard touchdown heave from Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery that tied the score 24-24 early in the fourth quarter — that left a lasting impression.
Gipson was camped under the high, arcing pass for a few seconds but couldn’t get a hand on it. Posey was also in coverage on the play but wasn’t in as good of a position as Gipson.
“He just can’t catch that. I take full responsibility for that,” Gipson said. “They were throwing with the wind on that drive and the ball felt like it was sailing. I thought for sure it was another pick, but the ball seemed to sail on me.”
Baker made good use of his NFL regular-season debut. He ran for 38 yards on eight carries (4.8 average) and caught four passes for 46 yards. His 2-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter tied the score 17-17.
“It meant everything in the world,” Baker, whom the Browns signed Tuesday off the Houston Texans’ practice squad, said of his debut. “As a kid, you dream about playing on Sundays. Preseason, it’s a different feeling. When you’re playing in the regular season, you know everyone is watching, and it’s just a dream come true.”
The Bears ran for 179 yards, the most any opponent has gained on the ground against the Browns this season, topping the 155 yards allowed against the Bills on Oct. 3.
Matt Forte had 24 carries for 127 yards (5.3 average), becoming the first running back this season to reach the 100-yard rushing plateau against the Browns.
“We haven’t given up a 100-yard rusher all year,” Jackson said. “That was disappointing in itself.”
Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard recorded a sack, bringing his team-high season total to 5½. He has tallied a sack in the past three games. The Browns had two sacks, bringing their total to 39 this season, one more than they had in 2012. … The Browns did not allow a sack for the first time this season. … The Browns have scored four defensive touchdowns this season, the most since they had five in 2001. … Quarterback Alex Tanney, running back Willis McGahee (concussion), offensive tackle Martin Wallace, left guard John Greco (sprained medial collateral ligament in right knee), offensive tackle Reid Fragel, tight end Keavon Milton and tight end Andre Smith (strained calf) were inactive for the Browns. … As expected, Ogbonnaya started in place of McGahee, and left guard Jason Pinkston filled in for Greco. Pinkston, who missed the final 10 games last season after a blood clot was discovered in his lung and then sat out most of this season with a high ankle sprain, started for the first time since Oct. 14, 2012. Rookie Garrett Gilkey replaced Pinkston for one series in the first quarter, allowing Gilkey to play offense during a regular-season NFL game for the first time. It was a coach’s decision to thrust Gilkey into the action, a team spokesman said. … Right guard Shawn Lauvao suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter but didn’t miss a snap. … The Browns named Hudson High School football coach Ron Wright their high school coach of the year. Wright led the Explorers to a 10-2 record this season. The Browns will make a $4,000 donation to Hudson’s football program in addition to the $2,000 that was already donated earlier this season to the 10 finalists for the award. The Browns also honored St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Division III state championship team.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.