BEREA, Ohio — Even days later, Josh Gordon's emotions remain jumbled following his first season-opening game since he was a rookie in 2012.
The Browns stopped their 17-game losing streak by tying the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Gordon still isn't sure how he feels about it.
"Conflicted," he said.
So was Gordon's game. And confusing.
He wasn't supposed to start as punishment for missing training camp, but Gordon was on the field for the first offensive play because of a "miscommunication," according to coach Hue Jackson.
The most dynamic player on Cleveland's roster, the former Pro Bowler figured to be a major element in the game plan, yet was only targeted three times by quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Gordon did make a leaping touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to tie it 21-all in the fourth quarter, but Taylor missed a chance to connect with the receiver late in regulation — a blown opportunity on a wet field that could have given the Browns their first victory since 2016.
It was all so strange, especially the Browns not winning despite forcing six turnovers.
Gordon, who has made personal decisions he regrets, can only think about what might have been.
"Definitely wish some things could just be altered in the course of the game," Gordon said Wednesday as the Browns ramped up preparation for Sunday's game in New Orleans. "But definitely can't look back anymore."
Gordon's opener began unexpectedly and stayed that way.
Last week, Jackson was adamant that Gordon would not be in the starting lineup against Pittsburgh after he missed more than three weeks of camp to address his personal health during his public battle with drugs and alcohol. Jackson said he was putting his foot down, and Gordon would not get any preferential treatment.
But after the Browns forced a Pittsburgh punt and began a drive at their 36, Gordon was lined up to the far left before Taylor dropped back to pass before scrambling for a 6-yard gain.
Gordon's appearance on the field led to confusion about whether Jackson had changed his mind or if co-ordinator Todd Haley was sending a message to his boss.
Following the game, Jackson said he wasn't aware that Gordon was in until it was too late, adding another layer of puzzlement to the situation.
On Monday, Jackson said starting Gordon was "a mistake" but refused to assign blame and insisted the team had "worked through it. It's done with. We move on."
Gordon said he did what he was told and was shocked to start.
"Yeah," he said. "I was definitely surprised."
Just as baffling was that Gordon did not play the rest of the first series or the entire second series — perhaps a delayed penalty.
And although Jackson talked about keeping Gordon on a "pitch count" because he hadn't played in any of the four preseason games and was just coming off a hamstring issue, he ended up playing 69 snaps, second only to Jarvis Landry (81) among Cleveland's receivers.
Gordon said the coaching staff decided at halftime to play him more than was originally planned. The Browns tried to exploit the Steelers' secondary by using Gordon's speed to stretch the field and create one-on-one matchups.
The 27-year-old, who had only played in 10 games since 2014 because of substance-abuse suspensions, said the extra workload was needed.
"Physically I felt great," he said. "It was good to get that experience and that feeling underneath me, especially an overtime game, the weather and everything. The amount of snaps and reps, it's good for my body to feel that. I feel great now, I felt great during the game. It was just good to see that my motor was at a decent point at that late in the game."
Cleveland's entire offence misfired in the opener, but Gordon believes the unit can take a large leap forward in Week 2.
"We have to," he said. "I think in the NFL, that's the biggest jump for most teams — after that first week. And for us, we've got to take off in a big way."
NOTES: Saints star quarterback Drew Brees said Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield "can be a lot better than me. He's got all the tools. He's more athletic, he probably can run around better, he's got a stronger arm." ... Mayfield shaved off a beard he had been growing since training camp. ... Starting DE Emmanuel Ogbah (ankle) missed practice and is unlikely to play Sunday against the Saints. LB Christian Kirksey was limited by shoulder and ankle issues but should be OK, Jackson said.
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