AP: Josh Gordon — and Browns — enjoy his return

ATLANTA — Josh Gordon knows how to make an entrance.

He just has to work on eliminating the messy exits.

Gordon returned from a 10-game suspension and had perhaps the largest impact Sunday in the Browns’ 26-24 last-second win. He led the team with eight catches and 120 yards and was targeted 16 times by quarterback Brian Hoyer.

“Honestly I was expecting everything they threw to me and everything they called,” Gordon said. “I told the coaches whatever they need me for.”

All week the Browns tempered expectations for the All-Pro receiver who led the league with 1,646 receiving yards last year.

Coach Mike Pettine talked about being “smart” with him and how difficult it is to be in football shape after so much time.

Wasted breath. Gordon started and played 51 of 74 snaps by unofficial count.

“I know there were some reports before the game that he was on a 20-30 play pitch count but that was never in our minds,” Pettine said. “It was going to be let’s see how he is, nobody knows Josh better than Josh and we all know what a special and unique athlete he is.

“It was obvious to us during the week at practice that he had stayed in shape. We just kept going back to him to see where he was and he kept saying he was good to go.”

Gordon was suspended for failing a marijuana test and violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He wasn’t permitted to practice but was allowed inside the building and took advantage. He made sure Pettine knew.

“I told him I’d been working out nonstop every day, day in and day out,” Gordon said. “I think that just goes to show I wasn’t just sitting around on my (butt) doing nothing.”

Gordon’s first catch, a 12-yard cross on third-and-6, came on Cleveland’s second drive. He added a 22-yard catch-and-run on a hitch, and the Browns scored on an 11-yard Isaiah Crowell run to tie the game at 7.

Gordon followed with a 17-yard in, a 19-yard hitch, a 5-yard cross, a 9-yard out in which he put his head down and drove the defender, a 12-yard hook and a 24-yard in on the winning drive to help set up Billy Cundiff’s 37-yard field goal. The final catch moved the ball to the Atlanta 45-yard line with 24 seconds left.

“It was very fundamental as to where I want to be going forward into the rest of the season and hopefully the rest of my career,” Gordon said of the exciting win. “It was more so a team effort. I knew those guys wouldn’t quit on me, so I definitely knew I wasn’t going to quit on them.”

Gordon has gotten good at returning from suspensions. He was suspended for two games to start last season, and in his first game he caught 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in a win at Minnesota.

“You can tell they’re a better football team when they have Josh Gordon out there,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

As usual when he plays, Gordon was in the middle of just about everything.

Two of Hoyer’s three interceptions were intended for him, as well as eight incompletions. Gordon also threw an incompletion after a reverse went haywire.

The interceptions almost cost the Browns the game and will keep Hoyer up at night this week. The first one came with 4:51 left on first-and-goal from the 6 with the Browns poised to put the game out of reach.

Hoyer thought his first option, running back Terrance West, was covered in the flat, so he held the ball and saw Gordon running across the back of the end zone. Cornerback Desmond Trufant nudged Gordon as he went to jump, then leaped himself.

“I don’t want to call out any official for not seeing the play or whatnot or make an excuse for it, but I think it just could have been probably called a different way if somebody would’ve saw it,” Gordon said.

“I thought if anything, throw it up high. He’ll get it or it will be out of bounds,” Hoyer said. “It’s a trust that I have in him and obviously it didn’t work out.”

Hoyer denied locking in on Gordon, but the 16 targets were twice as many as second-most, eight to Andrew Hawkins.

“It wasn’t my fault we were scripting plays for him in practice,” Hoyer said. “We got out of him just what we thought.”

Hoyer also took responsibility for his final interception, with 2:43 left. Gordon read the coverage correctly and broke toward the sideline, but Hoyer threw inside toward safety Dezmen Southward.

Pettine said the misconnections are understandable and expects Hoyer and Gordon to be more in sync over the final five games.

“There was a little bit of rust but we felt like we weren’t going to hold them back,” Pettine said. “We were willing to put up with some of that for the positives which obviously we all saw.”

Coordinator Kyle Shanahan had fun with his new toy. He used Gordon outside and in the slot and used him on a variety of routes.Gordon’s quick thinking paid off when the pitch on a reverse got away.

The play started at the 35 and Gordon retreated inside the 15 to retrieve the ball. He kept his head, gathered himself and threw the ball away.

“I think most people would probably just think to pick it up and run with it, but I saw the defensive end right there,” Gordon said. “I’ve run a lot of reverses and I used to play quarterback, so I know to get rid of the ball at any cost. So I saw Brian, and I threw it near Brian.”

Gordon wouldn’t say if the play called for him to throw it.

“No comment,” he said with a big smile.

Gordon, who was greeted by agent Drew Rosenhaus after his interview session, had a multitude of reasons to smile. He’s back doing what he loves for a team in the heat of a playoff chase.

“That’s my only hope for the city and this organization,” he said. “That’s what I want more than anything.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253.