BEREA — Josh Gordon caught the simple in route, absorbed a shot from safety Winston Guy, spun and took off. Cornerback Dwayne Gratz thought he had him, but Gordon pulled away. Safety Johnathan Cyprien had the angle on him, then didn’t.
Gordon’s 95-yard touchdown Sunday against Jacksonville not only made NFL history as he became the first player to top 200 receiving yards in consecutive weeks, it spoke volumes about his deceptive speed. Coordinator Norv Turner hoped it would also forever silence the critics who’ve questioned Gordon’s effort level.
“We sat around here in August and they complained the guy doesn’t work hard, he doesn’t run routes, he doesn’t finish,” Turner said Thursday. “And that (touchdown) was with four minutes left in the game. He had already caught nine balls for 150 yards. I didn’t see him not run a route full speed, and he goes 95 yards and pulls away from some pretty fast guys.”
The most notable knock on Gordon’s effort came from Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard, who visited minicamp in June and tweeted that he “loafs a lot” in practice.
“The play that was equally impressive was the Hail Mary,” Turner said, continuing his rant. “He was running as hard as he could run hoping he had a chance to make a play. So all this August talk is just talk. He’s a young player that’s maturing and getting a lot better and I think he can really get a lot better.”
Gordon’s speed is often overlooked because of his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame and long, easy stride — which tricks some into thinking he’s not giving maximum effort. But it was impossible to ignore Sunday when he streaked the final 77 yards for the go-ahead score.
Gordon, who followed a franchise-record 237 receiving yards against Pittsburgh with 261 vs. Jacksonville, said the fastest he was timed was a 4.37-second 40-yard dash during his days at Baylor. He also ran the 400 meters in 47 seconds. The size-speed combination is boosted by his strong hands and improved route-running.
The results have resonated across the NFL. His 498 yards over the last two games and 623 over the last three are NFL records. Gordon’s second in the league with 1,249 yards, first with 124.9 per game, tied for 16th with 64 catches and tied for 18th with seven touchdowns. He was suspended for the first two weeks.
“He attacks the defense at all three levels, he can run past them,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He does a good job on the underneath routes, like crossing routes and plays like that where he gets the ball and breaks tackles and makes yards on his own. He’s good on the intermediate routes, the curls and the in-cuts, the over routes, things like that.
“He runs good routes, he’s a big target, he’s aggressive, he’ll go up and get the ball. He’s an outstanding player. It hasn’t just been the last two games, he’s been productive all year long.”
Gordon needs only 41 yards to break Braylon Edwards’ franchise mark of 1,289 from 2007. Gordon has downplayed the records set in the last couple of weeks because they came in losses, but would appreciate passing Edwards.
“For me to attain a record like that for an entire organization, as long as this Cleveland Brown organization has been around, it’s a big thing,” he said. “But I’d like more wins than individual records.”
After the last two weeks, Gordon seems a lock to break the record Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. But Belichick is among the best at taking away the opponent’s top weapon – “They do a great job of making you play left-handed,” Turner said — and Aqib Talib (6-1, 205) might be the best cornerback Gordon will face this year.
“The biggest thing is, we haven’t had a team just say we’re going to go up and just play man and lock down,” Turner said. “That’s the next step, when you get a corner that’s a top-level corner and he comes up and he says, ‘Hey, I’m just going to play you man all day,’ then it becomes a little bit of a different type of competition.”
Talib limited Denver’s Demaryius Thomas to a season-low 41 yards and held Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to zero catches before leaving with an injury in the second half. Gordon respects Talib, but expects his run of success to continue.
“He’s a real physical, scrappy player,” Gordon said. “I’m pretty sure he’ll make some plays, but I’m definitely going to make more plays.”
It’s a loud statement, but Gordon never raised his voice above its normal hushed tone. That’s not his personality. Camouflage Porsche with bright orange rims aside, his is a quiet confidence.
“He’s got a quiet personality and everything like that, but he wants to be great and he shows it when he steps between the white lines on Sundays, and that’s his way to kind of express himself,” said receivers coach Scott Turner, Norv’s son. “You saw him get a little animated after he scored the 95-yard touchdown. That’s the most you’ve seen out of him. He’s more of a reserved personality.”
Gordon had enough energy left after the score to dunk the ball with authority over the crossbar. He then celebrated with a series of low-fives with fellow receiver Greg Little.
Scott Turner said Gordon’s improvement throughout the season can be credited to attention to detail. His release off the line and the speed and sharpness of his cuts have gotten better, making him more dangerous.
Turner said there’s only so much a defense can do to stop Gordon.
“They’ll try to get up and press him or play a safety over the top, I’m sure, and we’re prepared for all those different things,” he said. “There’s still ways to get open.
“It’s like the equivalent of if you play against a great pass rusher. You’re going to try to help, but over the course of 65, 75 plays in a game, you’re going to be one-on-one. That’s what we talk about with Josh, ‘When you’re one-on-one, that’s your chance to go win and that’s when you’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities.’”
Gordon is looking forward to seeing what Belichick has concocted for him.
“I hold this team in high regard for their past, their coaching staff and the guys they have on their team and what they’ve done,” Gordon said. “They might double-team me, they might not. If they do give me that look, we’re prepared for it. But if they don’t and they single me up, we plan to exploit it.”
He never accepted the notion he loafed during practice and said he wasn’t motivated or affected by those who said he did.
“Apparently what I do on the field, it’s backing itself up,” Gordon said. “So people say I’m loafing, but I feel as though I’m going 100 percent out there on the field. So people will perceive or hear rumors and believe what they want to believe because of whatever negativity has been surrounding me, but I really pay no attention to it.”