CARSON, California — The much-anticipated, long-awaited return of Josh Gordon didn't disappoint.
The Browns wide receiver was a bright spot in Sunday's loss to the Chargers, catching four passes for 85 yards in what was his first game back in almost three years.
In the process, Gordon — who was reinstated last month after multiple suspensions for violating the league's substance abuse policy — reminded us why he was once one of the game's most electric playmakers before those setbacks placed a promising career on hold.
"He made some plays," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "Again, it was his first game back, but he looked like he belongs."
Indeed, Gordon offered reason to believe he's still the same player that led the NFL in receiving in 2013. Shadowed by Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, who is widely considered one of the league's best defenders, Gordon got open early and often. He caught a 9-yard pass from rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer on the first play of the game and then later in the half, he made an acrobatic 28-yard catch that set up Cleveland's first and only touchdown two snaps later.
"I felt real good. More than anything, I was just happy and excited to be back out there with the guys in that environment, great weather," Gordon said. "You couldn't ask for a better beginning."
This weekend in Southern California was something of a fresh start for Gordon, who last played in a regular season game on Dec. 21, 2014. Once the league's leading receiver in 2013, Gordon has been open about a painful struggle with addiction and a turbulent past that made that accomplishment feel like a distant memory until the last month.
Reinstated on a conditional basis almost one month ago, Gordon's reunion with the Browns has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews from Jackson and teammates. They've praised Gordon's work ethic and physical shape despite a lengthy absence and are looked forward to how he might help a winless team still searching for its first win.
"You can just see there's a different spirit at practice," Jackson said. "Josh is just a different talent. I think we all recognized that and appreciate that."
While Gordon gave the Browns a much-needed playmaker on the perimeter, Jackson stressed they need others to step up in the final month of the season.
"Theres no question about that," Jackson said when asked about Gordon's positive impact moving forward, "but everybody else has to do their part, too. We can't just sit around and watch Josh. Everybody else has to make plays when they get opportunities to."
In the days leading up to his debut, Gordon — who made the most of his touches while building chemistry within Cleveland's offense — shrugged off questions about expectations and pressure both on and off the field.
He echoed that sentiment again Sunday as he starts what could be a new, exciting chapter.
"I feel free when I'm out there and I'm playing," Gordon said, "and when I come back in the real world, I feel the same way."