BEREA: The entire Browns organization could learn something from rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon.
That might sound strange, considering Gordon failed three marijuana tests in college and had several red flags attached to his name when the Browns used a second-round pick to nab him July 12 in the supplemental draft.
But Gordon did something not enough Browns coaches, executives and players have done since the team’s rebirth in 1999 — he held himself accountable.
After Gordon dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter, he stood in the locker room, faced questions from reporters like a man and blamed himself for the Browns’ 17-13 loss. Remember, at 21, Gordon is the youngest player on the 53-man roster.
He could have said the sun peeked through the retractable roof at Lucas Oil Stadium and interfered with his vision — it certainly appeared to be plausible. He also could have said cornerback Jerraud Powers interfered with his focus by diving toward his legs.
But Gordon hasn’t made a single excuse Sunday, or since.
“You could be blindfolded, and it’s like a wide receiver rule, an unwritten rule, if it hits your hands, you have to catch it,” Gordon said. “In that regard, I really don’t see how guys can point the blame at anybody beside yourself if the play was directed toward you. I never really thought to find a scapegoat, escape and be a coward. So stand up to it and take the blame.”
Of course, the Browns would rather have Gordon catch the ball. Nevertheless, the way he handled himself in the wake of his crucial mistake is a good sign.
It shows he’s not one of those diva wide receivers. He’s a young, hungry player with a bright future, provided he continues to stay out of trouble.
General Manager Tom Heckert took a lot of heat for aggressively selecting Gordon. He was kicked out of Baylor after failing two marijuana tests and then failed another one at Utah. He practiced with the Utes last season, but NCAA transfer rules prohibited him from playing.
Gordon was viewed as a big risk and for good reason.
“There will always be naysayers and people who don’t really believe or like to support a guy with such a shady background like me,” he said. “Most guys come in smooth, the cliché way of coming in, the draft, the whole nine yards. Mine is more a back-door kind of entranceway into doing it, and it’s not really what people are used to. They don’t like what they haven’t seen. So I really don’t have anything against it.”
So far, Gordon has proved his critics wrong on and off the field. He leads all NFL rookies in receiving touchdowns (four), receiving yards (333) and receptions of 20 yards or longer (five). He also has steered clear of trouble, something that will become more challenging once his strict routine is broken during the Browns’ bye week (Nov. 11) and the offseason.
But if Gordon can keep up the good work, he will prove to be the legitimate No. 1 receiver Heckert saw during the scouting process. As Heckert tries to convince new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner that he should keep his job beyond this season, Gordon strengthens his case.
Gordon has what it takes to atone for his drop. He has shown it throughout this season, racking up far more highlights than bloopers.
His growth since training camp has been one of the few bright spots for the 1-6 Browns. He often didn’t hustle. He often appeared to be lost. He often frustrated his coaches.
Now he’s practicing with more intensity. He still has tons to learn, but he’s taking notes and studying.
He’s also owning his mistakes. “Coming in with all the attention on you and the high expectations, you’re expected to do great things. When you fall short, I definitely know the finger will be pointed on you. I don’t expect to shed the light on somebody else or try to push it off.”
Too many professional athletes are willing to bask in the glory, but then they hide when the going gets tough. Some of them are Gordon’s teammates.
“To be great, I definitely think you do need to know when you’re right and when you’re wrong and when you mess up, so you know what you need to work on going into the next week, the next game,” Gordon said. “And if you really don’t, you’ll stay stagnant and you really won’t progress too far.”
If Gordon continues to practice what he’s preaching, his drop won’t haunt him for long.