BEREA — Coach Hue Jackson kept rewinding and rewatching Antonio Callaway’s 47-yard tying touchdown catch with 1:16 left Sunday in the 21-18 loss in New Orleans.
Part of him couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Part of him wanted to see it over and over.
“I did about five times because each time it was like he was getting faster at the end,” Jackson said Tuesday. “The burst to go get the ball was phenomenal.
“Obviously it was a heckuva play. Helluva throw and a heckuva catch.”
The Browns need Callaway, a rookie receiver taken in the fourth round, to use that speed to fill the giant hole created by the trade of Josh Gordon to the Patriots on Monday for a fifth-round draft pick. Callaway made his first start against the Saints with Gordon inactive, has the job full time and the Browns would love for him to hold onto it for the foreseeable future.
“We were not trying to push him too fast, not give him too much too fast. Now he has to take it all. It is time,” Jackson said. “I think that he will do well. He has always competed hard, and he always works at it. It is another step for him.”
Callaway has played two NFL games after 26 at Florida. He was suspended for his final season for his involvement in a credit-card scam.
Is he ready for the larger role so soon?
“Absolutely, he ain’t got no choice,” No. 1 receiver Jarvis Landry said. “But he’s definitely a guy that we’re going to count on, we’re going to lean on. We know he can make plays and Sunday was a prime example of that, and given more opportunities I’m sure he’ll make more plays.”
The next chance is Thursday night against the New York Jets.
“He welcomes that opportunity,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “As you see, he is a natural playmaker, and it is my job to get him the ball.”
Callaway knows what’s being asked of him.
“Yes, sir, it’s the National Football League, so I’ve got to step up,” he said.
Gordon was Cleveland’s most gifted receiver and the biggest deep threat in the passing game. The touchdown vs. the Saints and the 54-yard touchdown on a slant in the preseason showed Callaway can also stress a defense down the field.
“All of us can, but I was blessed with a little more ability to use my speed, so that’ll be a help,” he said.
The NFL’s Next Gen Stats include a category for the fastest ball carrier. Callaway reached 21.48 mph on the touchdown vs. the Saints, third on the list this year, trailing only Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill, who hit 21.95 mph on a 58-yard touchdown catch and 21.78 on a 91-yard punt return for a score.
“I didn’t know I was running that fast, and that was just out of a burst because I saw the ball at the last second,” Callaway said.
He started down the right numbers and bent late toward the post. He surged when he saw Taylor’s throw headed for the end zone and blew past cornerback Ken Crawley.
“I peeked outside and I saw Callaway and then I saw him put his head down and dig again, and he made the catch,” Landry said. “That was definitely another gear.”
“I did not think we could get to it to be honest with you,” Jackson said. “All of a sudden, I see this guy go vroom and he runs right under the ball. What a play.”
Callaway also caught a 16-yard out with eight seconds left to set up Zane Gonzalez’s missed 52-yard field goal that would’ve forced overtime. He had three catches for 81 yards and rushed twice for 7 — a 15-yard gain and an 8-yard loss. He didn’t have an offensive touch in the opener.
The touchdown, in particular, should serve as a confidence-booster.
“It does everything,” Landry said. “It does a lot for the coaches and it does a lot for 5 (Taylor). And that’s something as an offense we need, so it’s awesome.”
If Taylor can trust Callaway to reach and catch his deep shots, and coordinator Todd Haley can trust him to be where he’s supposed to be, the offense should make positive strides.
“You want to see someone other than the people that you know start making plays for you,” Jackson said. “He was able to do that. That was a huge play.”
Callaway said he heard from friends and family about the catch. His reaction?
“Get back to work,” he said.
He’s learned a player must be “dialed in” to the game plan in the NFL and isn’t getting carried away by his first primetime, national-TV appearance.
“Another game, take it step-by-step and day-by-day,” he said. “I’m ready.”