What Can This Brown Do? A Lot
Browns second-year wideout Josh Gordon has had his share of ups and downs during his brief NFL career. A second-round pick in the supplemental draft, he flew under the radar with 50 receptions for 805 yards and five TDs in 2012. But then Gordon popped on everyone’s radar during the offseason.
He received a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and was ticketed during training camp for driving 98 mph in a 60 zone. At one point over the summer, Browns CEO Joe Banner said, "Gordon knows that the rope that’s left isn’t long."
Look at him now.
Gordon’s stock has never been higher after he became the first receiver in league history to have back-to-back 200-yard games. He caught 14 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers in Week 12, and 10 balls for 261 yards and two scores against the Jaguars last weekend.
"You think of all the great receivers that have played the game, and for it not to have been done before—I was pretty taken back," Gordon told me on Wednesday. "Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Andre Johnson—the list is pretty long. I was shocked, to say the least. But it’s a great accolade to have, and I’m proud to have done it."
Despite missing the first two games of the season, Gordon trails only Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson in receiving yards, with the latter Johnson having a game up on Gordon due to already having played his Week 14 game Thursday night. Gordon’s 19.5 yards per catch and 124.9 per game are NFL bests among regular receivers.
Those are the kind of numbers that make fantasy football owners drool, but one lesser-known stat makes Gordon’s season all the more shocking: three, the number of starting quarterbacks the Browns have deployed this season. Gordon has caught passes from Brian Hoyer, Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden, and that number could very well jump up to four if either Caleb Hanie or Alex Tanney is forced into duty this weekend, as both Campbell and Weeden are recovering from concussions.
"You know, it’s hard on rhythm," the 6-3, 225-pound receiver says. "It’s something that we have had to deal with here and we’re really just pushing through and trying to persevere to get some wins."
The Browns are 4-8 overall, and 1-6 since Week 6. For a while trade rumors loomed over Gordon’s head. But they didn’t distract him. "What do you do out here on the field is the only thing you have control of as a player," he says. "Everything above you—front office decisions and stuff like that—is way over your head and you have no control over that."
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski has yet to announce a starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Patriots, but it’s of little consequence in the bigger picture. Uncertainty at quarterback has plagued the Browns for the past few years, but they have two first round picks in next year’s draft and can hopefully find an answer for their woes at the position.
On the outside, there’s no doubt that they’ve found a playmaker in Gordon.
ABOUT LAST NIGHT
Jaguars 27, Texans 20. Gary Kubiak paid for the Texans' latest loss with his job, and watching the game last night, it looked as if his team had already given up on the season. Apparently owner Bob McNair agrees, saying Friday about his decision to fire Kubiak, "[The Jags] played harder, they played smarter and that's not acceptable to us. ... The last straw was losing." For the second time this season, Kubiak benched Case Keenum in favor of Matt Schaub, and while Schaub did manage to get the Texans back in the game, it wasn't enough to slow the Jaguars, who have now won four of their last five. The young, developing team is clearly playing hard for and enjoying first-year coach Gus Bradley, and with the Titans, Bills and Colts remaining on the schedule, there's a good chance the Jags finish the season with six or seven wins, a remarkable feat given the team's 0-8 start.
PLAYER YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS WEEKEND
Cameron Jordon, defensive end, New Orleans (No. 94). The key to the Saints defense stopping the Panthers offense Sunday night will be their ability to put pressure on Cam Newton without letting him escape from the pocket. Jordan leads the Saints with 9.5 sacks and lines up all over the place in Rob Ryan’s defense. If he and the rest of the Saints’ front seven can keep the heat on Newton, and with the help of a raucous Superdome crowd, New Orleans stands to get the W in the first of these teams’ two meetings in the next three weeks that will essentially decided the NFC South.
SOUNDBITE OF THE WEEK
"There are repercussions of a blunder of that nature and I embrace it. With my position comes the charge of preserving and protecting the game of football. ... I think my biggest error on Thursday night is not realizing that play jeopardized the game from an integrity standpoint."
—Steelers coach Mike Tomlin during his Tuesday press conference, at which he issued a mea culpa for interfering with Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return in Baltimore’s 22-20 win over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving. Tomlin was fined $100,000 by the NFL, which may still take away or modify a Steelers draft pick.
TEN THINGS I’LL BE WATCHING FOR THIS WEEKEND
1. The first shoe drops in the coaching carousel. Gary Kubiak was fired by the Texans after the team's Thursday loss to the Jaguars, their 11th straight defeat. It'll be interesting to see whether owner Bob McNair and GM Rick Smith go with Wade Phillips (who will serve as the interim for the remaining three games), a rising coordinator, someone with previous NFL head-coaching experience or a college star as Kubiak's permanent replacement.
2. Can the Chiefs stop the bleeding? Kansas City heads to Landover, Md., and can’t afford to lose to Washington. Remember when the buzz was about their turnaround season? Now it’s about turning around a three-game losing streak in which they’ve allowed nearly as many points (103) as they did over the first nine games (111).
3. Return to the ’Burgh. Mike Wallace is heating up (12 catches, 209 yards and two TDs in the past two games) just in time for this weekend’s showdown with the team that drafted him in 2009 but wouldn’t open up the checkbook for him during free agency during the offseason. The Steelers aren’t hurting, assuming you ignore their 5-7 record. Antonio Brown hasn’t just replaced Wallace as Big Ben’s favorite target, he’s also second in the NFL with 85 receptions.
4. Big game by the Bay. The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West with a win over the 49ers at Candlestick Park Sunday, and take another big step toward clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But they may be catching Colin Kaepernick at the wrong time. The 49ers have won two straight following a two-game skid and are in position for a wild-card berth at 8-4. During that skid, Kaepernick completed 52.8% of his throws, had two TDs, two picks and a 60.1 rating. In the last two wins, his line: 65.4% completion rate, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 123.1 rating. This game just might be a preview of an epic playoff battle in January.
5. Two huge NFC East vs. NFC North matchups. The Lions-Eagles and Cowboys-Bears are must-watch games with playoff implications. Nick Foles has Philly on fire, having won four straight to match Dallas’ 7-5 record. The Eagles would love to see the desperate Bears knock off the Cowboys, allowing them (with a win) to move into sole possession of first place in the East. The Lions, fresh off their Turkey Day bludgeoning of the Packers, are eager to distance themselves from the Bears in the North, and the Cowboys wouldn’t shed a tear to see the Eagles lose. Really looking forward to seeing how these scenarios play out.
6. The Daniel Adongo experiment put into action. The rugby-star-turned-outside-linebacker is on the Colts’ active roster for the first time this week. How cool would it be to see Adongo make a big special teams play in the tussle with the Bengals? I’ll be looking for him whenever the Colts are kicking off.
7. More life without Rodgers The Packers are holding on for dear life after getting smacked around by the Lions on Thanksgiving. Inserting Aaron Rodgers back into the lineup would have been a huge shot in the arm against Atlanta. He practiced on Wednesday, but was ruled out for Sunday's game. Green Bay is already 2.5 games out of the last playoff spot with four games to go, so they can't afford another loss, no matter who's under center.
8. Peyton in pursuit of history. Manning’s 4,125 passing yards are the most ever through 12 games. He needs 338 in each of the Broncos’ final four games to surpass the single-season record (5,476) that Drew Brees set in 2011. Manning’s 41 passing touchdowns are tied for second most through 12 games, with Tom Brady, who set the single-season record with 50 in 2007. If the Chiefs couldn’t slow Manning down last weekend, what kind of shot do the Titans have this weekend? Or the Chargers, Texans and Raiders the rest of the way? I like Peyton’s chances.
9. Which Colts team will we see? Indy has been wildly inconsistent of late, and traveling to Cincinnati is going to be a real test. One 8-4 team against another. Since Week 9 it’s been W, L, W, L, W for the Colts. Chuck Pagano’s squad has the AFC South all but wrapped up, but momentum is essential for a postseason run.
10. Prime time in the Big Easy. Carolina at New Orleans. Two teams having bounce-back seasons. Riverboat Ron at the mouth of the Mississippi. This one should be fun. And real loud. The streaking Panthers, winners of eight straight, will get a taste of a playoff atmosphere when they enter the Superdome Sunday night. Both teams are 9-3 and in position to take the division, but the Saints will surely be ticked off after getting embarrassed by the Seahawks Monday night. Cam Newton vs. Drew Brees, the first of two showdowns between these QBs in the next three weeks. Prove-it time for the Panthers.