When the Cleveland Browns beat the Buffalo Bills 37-24 on Thursday night to improve to 3-2 on the season and drive to them to the helm of the AFC North, it was clear that their quarterbacks would get much of the attention. After all, the team’s two quarterbacks, Brian Hoyer and Brandon Weeden, have played impeccable in the last three games, so it stands to reason that they would get the majority of the credit.
But what this fails to show is that the person truly behind the Browns’ meteoric rise has been wide receiver Josh Gordon.
During the first two games of the season, Gordon sat out due to being suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse program. Since coming back into the lineup, Gordon has been an absolute force, catching 18 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
More than just putting up impeccable statistics is the fact that Gordon has been stretching the field with his vertical ability, which in turn has opened up space both for running lanes and for other wide receivers. In the time since his return, the Browns have thrown for seven touchdowns and three interceptions for 823 passing yards, and ran for 283 yards.
When this is compared to the one touchdown, three interceptions and 522 passing yards and 112 rushing yards gained during the first two weeks, it is clear there is no comparison.
In addition to these statistical improvements since Week 3, one needs to consider the changes in personnel that the Browns have made that could seemingly be viewed as a downgrade. Prior to Week 3, the team sent Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft pick, in turn losing their starting running back and choosing to replace him with the aging Willis McGahee.
On top of this change, the team also switched over to backup quarterback Brian Hoyer prior to Week 3 before being forced to hand the reins back to Brandon Weeden during the middle of Thursday night’s game because of an injury to Hoyer. Each of these changes were viewed as questionable or a downgrade when made, but have all surprisingly worked out great.
In the end, the no. 1 reason for each of these changes looking like a marked success up to this point is the play of Gordon upon his return from suspension. While many people will be slow to ever give credit for a team’s turnaround to a wide receiver, it is clear that Gordon has been the spark plug to the Browns’ offense, which in turn has been the spark for the Browns’ turnaround in 2013.