By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The more Josh Gordon rewrites NFL and Browns record books, the more he’s willing to unleash his swagger.
It’s the type of swagger a Pro Bowler possesses because it’s more than just talk.
Gordon called his shot last week and predicted he was “definitely going to make more plays” than New England Patriots standout cornerback Aqib Talib. Armed with bulletin-board material, Talib covered Gordon the entire game. He tried to push him around and get into his head by talking trash on the field.
“Aqib Talib was definitely the most aggressive, scrappy, hands-on, touching type of player,” Gordon said Wednesday. “It didn’t work too good for him.
“He definitely talked a lot like I expected him to. We exchanged some words, but I think the plays spoke for themselves a lot more.”
Gordon finished with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown Sunday during a 27-26 loss in which the offense’s winning plays in crunch time were negated by letdowns on defense and special teams along with controversial penalties.
Frustrated with the outcome, Gordon didn’t speak to local reporters after the game in Foxborough, Mass.
“It hurts to watch everything you worked hard for just crumble down so quickly,” said Gordon, whom the previous regime drafted in the second round of last year’s supplemental draft.
The results haven’t been what Gordon or his teammates want, but his performances have been undeniable bright spots for the Browns (4-9), who will try to end a four-game losing streak Sunday in their home finale against the Chicago Bears (7-6).
In 11 games this season, Gordon has 71 catches for 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns. This past weekend, he broke an NFL record for receiving yards in four games with 774, and he shattered the franchise’s single-season receiving mark of 1,289 set by Braylon Edwards in 16 games during 2007.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon had previously insisted twice that he wasn’t worthy of being a part of the Pro Bowl conversation. However, his recent feats have changed his mind.
“Hopefully with the rest of the season, the numbers stay where they are and I can do good individually, and I definitely expect to be there,” said Gordon, who leads the NFL in receiving yards despite playing with three quarterbacks this season, serving a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and enduring trade speculation until mid-October.
Gordon, though, isn’t among the top 10 receivers in Pro Bowl fan voting, which will end at 6 p.m. Dec. 26 on NFL.com. Players and coaches will cast their votes Dec. 23-26. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining who’ll make the Pro Bowl. The selected players will be announced Dec. 27, and the all-star game will be played Jan. 26 in Honolulu.
Gordon is eligible for the Pro Bowl despite his suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Players who violate the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy are not eligible.
No-brainer for Pro Bowl
Browns cornerback Joe Haden believes Gordon being picked to play in the Pro Bowl should be a no-brainer. Haden puts Gordon in the same class as Cincinnati Bengals two-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and just below Detroit Lions three-time Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson, who’s second in receiving yards this season with 1,348.
“Everything J.G. does is impressive now,” Haden said. “He’s catching the ball. He catches it in traffic. He runs across the middle. He runs deep, post routes. He’s running comebacks. He’s doing the whole [route] tree. I’m just proud of him that he’s developing into a really, really top receiver.
“Man, he’s doing things nobody’s done. If other receivers were doing this stuff, then other people would be like, ‘They’re stepping up. They’re becoming elite.’ He’s just becoming better and better and better. He’s still young. He’s 22 years old, and he’s handling it. He’s got 1,400 receiving yards [in 11 games]. Numbers don’t lie.”
Gordon has a franchise-record seven 100-yard receiving games this season, and he’s the only player in Browns history to have four consecutive 100-yard receiving games. His averages of 127.3 receiving yards per game and 19.7 yards per catch lead the NFL. Twelve of his 13 career touchdowns have come from 20 yards or more. With a 95-yard touchdown Dec. 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and an 80-yard score against Talib and the Patriots, Gordon joined Webster Slaughter (1989) and Dub Jones (1950, ’51) as the only Browns players with catches of 80 or more yards in consecutive games.
Haden said the difference between Gordon and the standout Bears receivers he’s preparing for this week, the 6-4, 230-pound Brandon Marshall and the 6-3, 216-pound Alshon Jeffery, is that Gordon has elite speed to go along with his size.
‘‘These big guys are moving,” Haden said. “They’re [running] 4.4 and 4.5 [seconds in the 40-yard dash]. But J.G. is legitimately 4.3. So when you can run away from people the way he can, being that big, it puts a whole different thing into the game.”
Gordon showed it when he caught a short slant from quarterback Jason Campbell, stiff-armed Talib and outraced the Patriots for an 80-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 19-3 lead with 1:25 left in the third quarter. Talib was called for three penalties (one was declined) while trying to defend Gordon.
“Once [Talib] didn’t tackle [Gordon] as soon as he caught it, he got that little touch on him, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s about to run away from this dude for sure,’ ” Haden said. “That’s a bad feeling when you just can’t catch somebody.”
Now that Gordon has proved he can consistently dominate, everyone will be watching to see how he handles success. Although the soft-spoken Gordon is exuding more confidence, he doesn’t think he’ll let it go to his head.
“I feel as though there’s a lot more to come out of it I haven’t gotten yet,” Gordon said. “I haven’t reached where I’m trying to go, and I try to stay humble. And that’s really just my personality through and through.”
Gordon blamed prescription cough medicine that contained codeine for the two-game suspension he served at the beginning of this season, and it’s his understanding that one more failed drug test would lead to banishment from the NFL for at least a year. It’s the main reason the Browns were willing to listen to trade offers for Gordon before the Oct. 19 trade deadline.
Living in Cleveland
Gordon plans to stay in Cleveland and around the organization more this offseason than in the past, but he’ll also travel and work out elsewhere.
He has expressed confidence he won’t fail another drug test, and the Browns and their fans hope he’s right.
Watching from afar, Marshall sees greatness in Gordon if he stays on the right path.
“You take a kid, I believe had some blemishes on his record, some character issues coming in, seeing him really get it early — that’s what I’m most impressed about,” said Marshall, a four-time Pro Bowler. … “What I can see is him maturing right before our eyes, and that’s impressive.
“Sometimes we get caught up so much into the limelight and the money and the jewelry and all the women and things like that and we lose focus. Sometimes it’s from an ignorance standpoint where we just don’t know. The advice I would give any kid, a young kid going into the offseason, is really surround yourself with good people and understand that one wrong move, one wrong turn, can lead to disaster.”
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.