Josh Gordon showed why the Cleveland Browns are so happy to have him back on the field.
The talented receiver with a history of suspensions for drug violations caught everything thrown his way in his preseason debut Friday night, scoring on a 43-yard reception and also hauling in another pass from Robert Griffin III for a 44-yard gain that led to a first quarter field goal in a 30-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It feels great,” said the third-year pro, a former college teammate of RG III. “I feel really good to be out there with my teammates, my brothers. It was uplifting.”
Jameis Winston threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns in one half of work for the Bucs, who achieved an objective of starting faster on offense than they did the previous two weeks.
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Griffin completed 8 of 14 passes for 119 yards, one TD and no interceptions before being replaced by Josh McCown at the start of the third quarter. Gordon was only targeted twice and finished with 87 yards receiving, both his catches coming when he beat cornerback Brent Grimes, one of Tampa Bay’s key offseason acquisitions.
Gordon, whose preseason debut was delayed by a quadriceps injury, hadn’t played since December 2014. He was suspended all of last season for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse and won’t be eligible for the first four games of this regular season.
“I played with Josh before. It’s just good to see him out there making plays, getting an opportunity to get back in the league,” Griffin said. “We’re looking forward to him making the most of that. I’m really excited for him.”
A Pro Bowl selection in 2013 when he had 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine TDs, Gordon has been the subject of trade speculation during training camp. Although the Browns have said they’re not interested in moving him, and Gordon has said he wants to remain in Cleveland, club executive Sashi Brown said Thursday that like any player, there is a price for the 25-year-old receiver, who has been suspended for 27 of the last 32 games.
The NFL Network reported Friday that price is a “second-rounder and more.”
Teams watching tape of him against the Bucs can understand why. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound receiver ran past Grimes on his first catch, then made a nice adjustment on the ball to gain the inside position to make his TD catch as he crossed the goal line.
“He made a tremendous play. It was good just to get him out there in a game,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “He did some good things. There are some things we'll continue to improve on with him, but I thought it was a good start for him.”
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Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans had five receptions for 115 yards, including a 34-yard TD from Winston, who completed 16 of 25 passes in what likely was his final tuneup for the regular season.
Griffin was sacked five times. Cleveland yielded three more sacks in the second half.
Browns: First-round draft pick WR Corey Coleman played after sitting out the first preseason games with a sore hamstring. He was targeted, once on a deep throw, but did not have a reception. He also returned two punts for 10 yards.
Buccaneers: Struggling K Roberto Aguayo rebounded from missing three kicks in the first two weeks of the preseason, booting field goals of 48, 21 and 27 yards and making all three of his extra points. The second-round draft pick missed an extra point at Philadelphia two weeks ago, then failed to convert a pair of field goals against Jacksonville. He had a rough week in practice, too, missing two field goals and getting booed by fans attending a Browns-Bucs joint practice.
“I had to focus, lock in and do what I used to do at Florida State,” Aguayo said. “On the professional level, you can make 30 kicks in a row, miss one and the one miss is all they’re going to talk about. I’m glad I went out and did my job. I’m very happy to help the team.”
Browns: CB Jamar Taylor, who has replaced Tramon Williams as a starter, got spun around in coverage on Evans’ TD catch.
Buccaneers: LG Josh Allen and RG Evan Smith filled in for starters Kevin Pamphile and Ali Marpet, who did not dress.
The Buccaneers unveiled six new video boards with a total display area of 28,416 square feet, which the team says is the third largest in the NFL. The Hall of Fame Club, a premium seating area located on the suite level of Raymond James Stadium, also made its debut.
Browns: In addition to Gordon (quad) and Coleman, CB Joe Haden (ankle surgery) made his preseason debut; CB Tramon Williams (toe) did not dress; C Cameron Erving (ankle), played after being hurt during Wednesday’s joint practice; CB Justin Gilbert (concussion) and WR Marlon Moore (hip) left the game in the second quarter.
Buccaneers: WR Donteea Dye suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter and did not return; LB Daryl Smith, TE Luke Stocker, DT Clinton McDonald and reserve RB Mike James did not dress.
Who: Washington at Tampa Bay
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Radio: 103.5 FM