Josh Gordon was one of very few bright spots in the first half of Friday night’s 30-13 loss at Tampa Bay in what was otherwise a very ugly dress rehearsal for Browns starters on both sides of the ball.
As head coach Hue Jackson likes to say, the tape of what took place at Raymond James Stadium needs to be erased and forgotten.
In his first game since Dec. 21, 2014, Gordon was targeted twice and both times he made spectacular plays reminiscent of his 2013 Pro Bowl season.
Gordon caught a 44-yard pass from Robert Griffin III on their third offensive snap of the game on a deep ball up the far sideline that saw him blow by Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes before his momentum from the throw carried him out-of-bounds at the Tampa Bay 29.
Late in the second quarter Gordon fought Grimes for another deep ball from Griffin inside the 5 and fell into the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.
2 targets, 2 catches, 89 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for a nearly 20 month layoff between games.
Unfortunately for as great as Gordon was offensively, the Browns’ defense was flat-out awful. It’s going to be a long year on that side of the football. You’ve all been warned. The secondary can’t cover a window, the pass rush is as non-existent as playoff hopes for 2016 are, and they still can’t tackle.
It all added up to a 27-10 halftime deficit.
Buccaneers sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston picked the Browns defense apart for 259 yards through the air in the first half completing 16-of-25 passes. Receiver Mike Evans had 115 yards and a TD on 5 catches. Cleveland generated very little pressure up front and when they did, Winston was able to escape each time unscathed. Tampa Bay rolled up 305 yards of total offense, converted 5-of-9 on third down and scored 20 points on offense before intermission.
Then they called it a night.
In the first half of all 3 preseason games combined the Browns defense has allowed: 39 first downs, 191 rushing yards and 676 total yards in 110 snaps. Opponents are 15-of-28 on third down.
The Browns gave up chunks of yardage like presents at Christmas Friday night. A total of 10, count them 10, plays of 14 or more yards: 16, 22, 23, 14, 16, 18, 31, 47, 34 and 15 yards. The Buccaneers scored on drives of 12 plays, 82 yards and 10 plays and 69 yards bringing the preseason total to 6 scoring drives of 10 or more plays and 8 of 9 or more plays allowed.
Griffin was sacked 5 times in the first half by Tampa Bay defenders and luckily came out of the game unscathed. Austin Pasztor did not have a good night at right tackle as he got beat several times and was one of a few lineman who drew a costly holding flag and Cameron Erving didn’t hold his ground well at center.
Punter Andy Lee continues to boom punts but he appeared to draw the ire of Jackson on the sideline after he allowed Buccaneers returner Adam Humphries to cruise down the sideline and into the end zone on a 73-yard punt return. Lee apparently got the message because he later cut off a 43-yard return by Bernard Reedy in the third quarter.
The good news is that none of what has happened to date counts. The bad: there is so much to fix and so little time before Sept. 11 rolls around.