Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Josh Gordon’s return comes at opportune time for Browns

Is it Sunday yet?

We ask because on Sunday the Cleveland Browns start a two-game road stretch against Atlanta and Buffalo where, if Cleveland plays well, could see the Browns enter the final quarter of the NFL season at 8-4 and very much in the thick for their first playoff appearance since 2002.

It’s also because Sunday marks the return of wide receiver Josh Gordon from his 10-game suspension, which can only be a good thing for a Cleveland offense that is struggling to get things going.

“I just want to display some hard work and effort, not only me but try to get that atmosphere throughout the rest of the team and have us be in a position that the city of Cleveland hasn’t been in a long time,” Gordon said when asked about his return for the season’s final six games. “Really, just trying to make a playoff push. That’s for sure.”

Gordon’s return couldn’t have come at a better time as the Browns are still dealing with an ineffective rushing attack that may (or may not) be improved after the release earlier this week of running back Ben Tate. (Unless they can replace Alex Mack’s fibula with one from Tate, it may not matter.)

It might also be hard to find a better opponent as the Falcons’ pass defense is last in the league in yards per game and 29th in sacks, with just 13. They also play in a dome, meaning weather won’t be a factor as Gordon looks to get the offense back on track.

Browns head coach Mike Pettine was on Sirius NFL Radio this morning and he talked about the injury concern surrounding a player who missed the final preseason game and first 10 games of the season. Pettine also said there is a “scenario” where Gordon could start on Sunday, which dovetails with what he said during practice on Wednesday.

“We’ll have him on a bit of a pitch-count. I met with (head athletic trainer) Joe Sheehan and (strength and conditioning coach) Paul Ricci and then (wide receivers coach) Mike McDaniel, and we just kind of got on the same page as far as getting him his individual work and seeing where he is,” Pettine said. “There needs to be a progression through the week. I think the trap to fall into is, hey, he’s back; let’s just go ahead and throw him out there for a bunch of plays. There is certainly danger inherent in doing that. We have to be smart with how we do it and have a plan to progress through the week.”

It’s fine for Pettine to downplay Gordon’s return in an attempt to control the hype, but it’s not going to work. The moment he steps on the field Gordon becomes the team’s best offensive weapon and the defense has to respect him, which means the Browns need to take full advantage of Gordon’s ability.

No one may benefit more from Gordon’s return that Hoyer, who has struggled recently and seen his completion percentage drop to 55.7 percent – which puts him at 31st in the league. That number is a bit skewed, however, by two historically poor days against Jacksonville and Houston; take away those two games and Hoyer’s completion percentage is at 62 percent, which would rank him in the middle of the pack.

Those games do count, obviously, but Gordon’s return can only make life easier for Hoyer, who has spent the majority of the season without his two All Pro targets in Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron.

“I think (Josh is) going to help in every way possibly because you put him on the field,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “You put No. 12 on the field, and the defense is going to have to see where he’s at. How they want to play him, that’s up to them. That’s why it kind of comes in with my job as far as still seeing how the defense is playing. Are they going to try and double-team him? And then other guys are open? You never know. It’s just kind of play it by ear and get out there and play the game and see how it plays out.”

It may be a bit unfair to look at Gordon as the savior of the Browns season, but the reality is that no one else in the division, or the conference for that matter, is adding a player as talented as Gordon for the final six games of the season.

Which is just one more reason why we can’t wait until Sunday.

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