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Josh Gordon's return was a smashing success


While he was warming up for his first game of the 2014 season, Josh Gordon made a slick one-handed catch and turned to a cameraman.

"Get your popcorn ready," Gordon said, with a smile.

While some only predicted him to play 20 snaps, Gordon put on a show against the Falcons with eight catches and 120 yards, which is the most by a Browns receiver this season. There also was the immeasurable way Atlanta altered its defense.

Gordon's impact was felt in the first quarter. On the first touchdown drive, he hauled in two catches for 36 yards. The second reception was a perfectly executed bubble screen that went for 22 yards and got Cleveland inside the red zone. 

The All-Pro receiver saved his best catch for last. The ball was on Cleveland's 31-yard line and the Browns trailed 24-23 with 32 seconds left. Gordon ran a deep slant 24 yards over the middle of the field. His footwork was so shifty, it turned around cornerback Desmond Trufant, leaving Gordon wide open for the reception. Without that catch, the Browns might've flown home from Atlanta with a 6-5 record.

"It means the world to me to be back, but not just to be back, but to be with this team," Gordon said on Sunday after the win. "I've been through plenty of different coaches, owners and GMs and offenses. To finally see us get it going in the right direction means everything to me. That's what I live for and that's what I work for."

"He made a big contribution, especially on that last drive," said quarterback Brian Hoyer.

The wild part about Gordon's performance was that the receiver admitted he was knocking off some of the rust during the game. Think about that. You'd be a hard pressed to find another receiver who could post 120 yards while away from live game reps for nearly three months.

Possibly Gordon's biggest influence on the Falcons game was an indirect one.

Cleveland's rushing attack averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Atlanta couldn't risk stacking the box with an extra safety, because that would leave Gordon in one-on-one matchups. One of the first things running back Isaiah Crowell had to say about his 88-yard, two touchdown performance had to do with Gordon.

"He opened up a lot of stuff," said Crowell. "The run game, the pass game. Going deep. He was a threat. It helped me out a lot."

Another beneficiary of Gordon's return? Andrew Hawkins, who finished with five catches for 93 yards.

It was clear to see not only how comfortable Hawkins was lined up in the slot, but also how hard it was for the Falcons to cover the receiver. Lining up in the slot allows Hawkins to use more of the field and not be hugged up next to the sideline. 

The bottom line: Gordon makes Cleveland's offense a dynamic unit who can now lean on the passing attack when needed. He makes preparing for and play against the Browns a much more difficult task.

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