NEW ORLEANS — When the shock wore off, the Browns had a game to play.
Without talented and troubled receiver Josh Gordon.
“Nobody was expecting that,” defensive end Myles Garrett said Sunday after the 21-18 loss to the Saints. “You walk in and hear that, that’s big news, but you’ve got to keep the train rolling.”
General manager John Dorsey announced Saturday night he would release Gordon on Monday. He’d rather trade him and is trying, so the Monday deadline is flexible.
Coach Hue Jackson addressed the team at the hotel Saturday night.
“Nobody flinched. They understood it,” Jackson said. “We wish Josh well on his journey. We all love and respect Josh but we had to do what we felt we had to do as an organization.”
Gordon missed 54 of 64 games from 2014-17 serving drug suspensions, so his teammates always knew his presence and availability were tenuous. But he played in the opener, practiced all week and was a significant part of the game plan, so the organization’s decision Saturday after he arrived late to the walkthrough and reported a hamstring injury caught some players off-guard.
Jackson said the strong leadership in the locker room allowed the players to regroup and focus on the Saints. Nowhere was that more important or evident than with the receivers.
Rookie fourth-round pick Antonio Callaway made his first start in Gordon’s place. He made what could’ve been the play of the game with a 47-yard touchdown catch with 1:16 left to tie the game at 18. Zane Gonzalez missed the extra point.
“It’s big-time. It’s big-boy football,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “And that’s what we expect out of him to do. You’re going to hear a lot more out of him this year, just like that.”
The Browns had fourth-and-5 with the game on the line and quarterback Tyrod Taylor decided to take a shot deep. He saw the safety go with Landry short of Callaway and let it fly. Callaway ran under it, grabbed it and got both feet inbounds.
“That’s just a taste of what I can do,” he said.
Left guard Joel Bitonio said Callaway told him before the play to protect because they’d have a touchdown if he did.
“They say that a lot, but it just happened to work out that play,” Bitonio said.
“Awesome. Awesome. Awesome effort,” Landry said. “Antonio hit another gear there at the end.”
Callaway played 15 snaps in the opener, was targeted once and didn’t have a catch. He caught three for 81 yards against the Saints, including a 16-yarder with eight seconds left that was followed by Gonzalez’s miss from 52 yards that would’ve tied the game. He also had a 15-yard run.
“I just needed to touch the ball a little bit and get it in my hand a little bit and get the blood flowing,” Callaway said.
He said Gordon remains a “big brother” to him but supported the decision to part ways. He said he’s ready to fill the role at X wideout.
“We’re going to need him to continue to keep making plays for our success for the remainder of this season,” Taylor said. “He knows the opportunity that’s in front of him. He stepped up to it today in a big way.”
Dorsey would prefer to trade Gordon so the Browns don’t have to pay the remainder of his $790,000 salary and get something in return, likely a conditional draft pick. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Dorsey would prefer to trade Gordon to the NFC, where the Browns wouldn’t have to face him as often.
“It’s always tough since he is a special talent, but at the same time some decisions get made that you do not really have control over,” Taylor said. “We will be praying for him and his well-being and hopefully everything works out for him.”
Dorsey will have to decide if he needs to add a receiver. Landry and Callaway are the starters, with Rashard Higgins the No. 3. Rookies Damion Ratley and Derrick Willies round out the group. That’s a lot of youth, and Dorsey told The Chronicle-Telegram before the opener he’d still consider adding veteran Dez Bryant.
Jackson said he was inclined to stick with the guys he’s coached over the last few months.
“Let’s see if we can grow these guys, how they can compete and make plays for us, and if we think we need to do something more, then we will,” he said.
“We will be fine,” said Landry, who didn’t want to talk about the Gordon decision.
Landry had five catches for 69 yards and Higgins five for 47. Running back Carlos Hyde has seen enough to believe the receiving corps can withstand the loss of Gordon.
“I definitely think we’ll be all right,” he said. “We’ve got some young guys, they’re definitely ready for it. Callaway came up big today. Higg came up big today.”
Garrett was one of the players who said they hadn’t reached out to Gordon but planned to shortly.
“It’s a business,” he said. “It’s one of your family members, but at the end of the day you’ve got to have a short memory in the NFL.
“I hope he finds success wherever he goes. He’s always been a great guy to us and a great guy to be around in the facility. I really just wish the best for him.”