It took just six seconds for Josh Gordon to get the ball on Sunday; after nearly three years away from football, Flash Gordon seemed to pick up right where he left off.
At 22, Gordon was the only receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard games, and he led the league in receiving yards in 2013. But the gifted Browns receiver has struggled with substance use for his entire adult life. His addiction issues, which he has spoken about in The Undefeated, led to multiple suspensions that kept him out of football since December 2014.
On Sunday, he returned to the field in the Browns’ 19-10 loss to the Chargers. Knowing everything that Gordon has been through—and that he may fight addiction for the rest of his life—watching him immediately resemble the player he was a few years ago was one of the most uplifting moments of the season.
Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson was asked earlier this week if Gordon would start Sunday. He laughed, and responded “Heck yeah, are you kidding me? Yeah, he’s going to start right away.”
He wasn’t lying. On the first play of the game, Gordon caught a slant for 9 yards, his first catch in 1,078 days. Gordon finished the game with four catches for 85 yards on 11 targets against San Diego. To put that in perspective …
The only wide receiver with more than 85 receiving yards against the Chargers this year was Odell Beckham. Josh Gordon hit that today after not playing football for three years.— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) December 4, 2017
His other three catches passed the eye test. On Gordon’s third grab of the afternoon, he hauled in this pass from DeShone Kizer—in the process demonstrating his rare blend of straight-line speed, leaping ability, and strength as he fought off Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward.
Josh Gordon making an impact right where he left off pic.twitter.com/Oy16QxSEZ0— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) December 3, 2017
It’s when Gordon streaks over the middle, though, that the 6-foot-3, 225-pound wideout turns into a freight train. With just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Gordon caught a deep pass near the hashes. Hayward tried to tackle him, but Gordon extended his arm into Hayward’s chest while maintaining a full sprint, morphing into his own lead blocker as he pancaked Hayward for an extra 15 yards.
Those are the kinds of plays that induce hyperbole around Gordon. Not many players can be compared to Randy Moss with a straight face, but Gordon has a chance to become among the league’s best. For now, we can just be happy that Gordon is back on the field.