CARSON, Calif. -- The Browns served notice on their first play of the game that Josh Gordon was in the house.
Lined up in the slot, Gordon caught a 9-yard slant from DeShone Kizer to announce to the world, "I'm back.''
Unfortunately for the Browns, his much-heralded return came in another loss, this time 19-10 to the Chargers to fall to 0-12 for the second straight season. The Browns are the second team in NFL history to reach the dubious feat of an 0-12 start two seasons in a row, joining the 1976-77 Bucs.
Gordon's early catch was his first in 1,077 days -- since Dec. 21, 2014, a 17-13 loss to the Panthers. In the fourth quarter, just before the two-minute warning, Gordon caught a 39-yarder to the Chargers' 28 with the Browns trailing 19-17.
But two plays later, Kizer threw his 15th pick of the season on a pass over over the middle to end the threat.
It was the second straight drive on which Kizer turned the ball over, the first coming on a Joey Bosa strip-sack after the Browns had marched to the 15.
Gordon finished with four catches on 11 targets for 85 yards. It would've been much more if Kizer hadn't overthrown him on several occasions.
The loss dropped Browns coach Hue Jackson to 1-27 since last season -- the worst start for a coach in NFL history. The fact that it came near his hometown of Los Angeles made it even tougher to take. Jackson already said this week that he wasn't proud of the record he was bringing back home.
The Browns are down to only four chances to avoid joining the exclusive 0-16 Club, one that only the 2008 Detroit Lions are in. There are four more chances to avoid an 0-16 parade in the streets of Cleveland.
"What it takes to win in the National Football League is a consistency in play," Jackson said in his postgame comments. "You can't be up and down. . . . You have to be consistent with how you play.
"We didn't take this long trip to come down here to be close. We want to win. We all work hard. . . There's no moral victories. We want to win."
"Very close isn't cutting it anymore," Kizer said after the loss.
Trailing 19-10 with 4:48 left, Kizer faced a third down from the Chargers' 15. His previous two passes in the end zone, to Gordon and then Corey Coleman, were broken up.
Kizer (15-of-32, 215 yards, 1 TD, 1 pick, 66.5 rating) dropped back to throw, but Bosa stormed past right tackle Shon Coleman, came around behind Kizer and strip-sacked him. The Chargers recovered, and the play withstood a review.
"DeShone did some good things," Jackson said after the game. "I'm sure there were some things he'd like to have back. . . He knows he can't take a sack there. He knew that right away. He's in that spot and has to make that play in that situation."
The play took the wind out of the sails for the Browns and breathed new life into the Chargers, who did not want to earn the dubious distinction of being the only team to lose to the Browns for the second straight year.
But now that Gordon is back, it looks like the Browns will at least have a chance for a win.
The 2013 Pro Bowler, who had been suspended for 54 of previous 59 games, looks like he hasn't missed a beat and is just what the Browns need to try to get this monkey off their back.
In the second quarter, Gordon caught a 28-yard pass down the left sideline over 2016 Pro Bowler Casey Hayward, who returned to the team on Friday night after attending the funeral of his 27-year-old brother, who was killed in an auto accident in Macon, Ga.
Gordon's big catch led to a 28-yard TD catch by tight end David Njoku, who was lined up wide left and singled up on a cornerback, to put the Browns ahead 7-6 with 1:55 left in the half. Njoku finished the game with four catches for a season-high 74 yards.
But as has happened so many times this season, the Browns surrendered a score just before the break, this time a 22-yard field goal as time expired for a 9-7 lead.
Still, the game had a different vibe with Gordon in it, and once Kizer figures out Gordon's speed and stops overthrowing him, the two can be dynamite together.
He overthrew Gordon deep inside the 5 by 3 yards in the second quarter; and Duke Johnson was later stopped on fourth and 1 to kill that drive.
Kizer looked for Gordon deep again in the third quarter, and his pass was almost picked off by Hayward, who dropped it.
"Josh can run, and you don't know if he's running fast or super fast," Jackson said after the game. "The quarterback's just got to get to know him.
"This is just a start for Josh. It's (a matter of) practice time, time on task, time with the quarterback, time in the system, and we'll just go from there"
Browns red zone D
The Browns' red-zone defense was outstanding all game, allowing only one TD in six trips inside the 20.
The Chargers settled for three first-half field goals in four trips inside the red zone for a 9-7 edge at the break.
The Browns came into the game second-last in the NFL in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 23 of 31 trips inside the 20 for 74.2 percent. Making it more impressive is that the Chargers have been on a roll lately, scoring 54 and 28 points the last two games.
But the Chargers also headed into the game poor in red-zone offense, tied for 26th with 14 TDs in 30 trips for 46.7 percent.
Corey Coleman comes up blank
With Gordon in the game, Coleman was no longer Kizer's top target. Coleman, who dropped a TD pass in the end zone last week, caught none of the four passes that went his way, although two were overthrown, including a throwaway in the back of the end zone.
Philip Rivers' quick release
Rivers' released the ball so quickly that the Browns couldn't get muster any pressure on him. Joe Schobert had the lone sack. Rivers completed 31-of-43 attempts for 344 yards with one TD and no INTs for a 103.2 rating. The Chargers outgained the Browns 429 yards t 291, but couldn't punch it in once inside the red zone.
Myles Garrett comes up limping
The Browns' primary pass-rush threat, Garrett came up limping on a holding call in the first quarter, and came out for a few plays. But he went back in and finished the game, albeit in pain in his high right ankle sprain.
"Yeah, pulled down a little bit,'' he said. "The guy fell on my ankle on the holding call, but you've got to play through those kind of things."
He acknowledged that it bothered him the rest of the game.
"It did, but it is what it is,'' he said.
Travis Coons hits the upright
Former Browns kicker Coons did his former team a huge favor in the first quarter when he smacked a 38-yard field goal attempt off the right upright. Coons, cut by the Browns in training camp in 2016, was signed by the Chargers on Saturday to replace kicker Nick Novak, who was placed on injured reserve with a back injury. But Coons made his next three kicks for the 9-7 halftime lead: 21, 40 and 22 yards.
Bosa roughing the passer
Bosa stormed past Browns left tackle Spencer Drango but drilled Kizer upon release to draw a 15-yard roughing-the-passer flag in the first quarter. But the Browns were unable to take advantage. They marched to the LA 35, but Duke Johnson was stuffed on fourth and 1.
Browns safety Jabrill Peppers suffered a knee injury in the second half and didn't return. Jackson said he'll undergo an MRI on Monday. Danny Shelton suffered a rib injury but did return in the second half. Randall Telfer was evaluated for a concussion, but was cleared.
The Browns host the Packers next Sunday at 1 p.m....Read more