NFL

Browns offense not same without WR Josh Gordon

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BEREA, Ohio (AP)

Josh Gordon took care of his outstanding traffic tickets in court this week.

Unfortunately for the Browns, he's still paying the price for breaking some NFL rules.

Cleveland's offense will be missing its top wide receiver again this week when the Browns play at Baltimore against a Ravens team that has had more than a week to recover from an embarrassing season-opening loss to Peyton Manning and Denver. Gordon will sit out as he serves the second game of his two-game suspension for violating the league's policy on substance abuse.

Last Sunday, the Browns didn't have Gordon and lost their season opener, 23-10 to Miami. Without Gordon, Cleveland lacked a legitimate deep threat and the Dolphins defense didn't have to worry about much more than getting after quarterback Brandon Weeden, who was sacked six times and hit 16 - more than any other quarterback in Week 1.

The Browns had insisted they could survive without Gordon. It proved to be harder than they imagined.

''Well, he changes the way you play us as an offense, just coverage-wise, protection-wise, stuff like that,'' Weeden said Wednesday. ''When he's out there, he offers a bigger-body guy that can do some things, so they have to change the way they play.''

Gordon's absence allowed the Dolphins to stack defenders near the line of scrimmage and slow Cleveland's rushing game. Running back Trent Richardson carried the ball 13 times for 47 yards, but gained just 21 after the Browns' first drive, which ended with Weeden being intercepted at Miami's 1-yard line.

Gordon simply makes the Browns better by being on the field. Period. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is a physical force who is big enough to outmuscle linebackers and can outrun cornerbacks. Cleveland is just not the same team without No. 12.

''We knew the value that Josh has to the team, but I do see the other guys having the ability to step up,'' Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. ''They'll have to continue to do that. This week will be a big test for them.''

Earlier this week, Gordon and wide receiver Greg Little pleaded no contest to separate traffic offenses. The 22-year-old Gordon had been ticketed twice for speeding, once for going 98 mph. He paid $296 in fines and court costs.

During his suspension, Gordon is allowed to attend meetings and work out in the team's facility. The only place he's not allowed to go is on the field, and that's where the Browns need him most.

In the meantime, the team's other primary wide receivers - Little, Davone Bess and Travis Benjamin - need to step up along with tight end Jordan Cameron, who had career-highs with nine catches for 108 yards against the Dolphins.

Weeden said he's confident he's got enough playmakers to offset Gordon's absence for another week.

Really, he's got no other choice.

''I thought our guys played well,'' said Weeden, who passed for 289 yards but threw three interceptions, two on balls that went off receivers' hands. ''I thought our receivers played well as a unit, we just weren't able to get anything rolling, especially on third down.

''It's a big part of this league.''

The Browns were just 1 of 14 on third-down, an awful statistic that can be partially attributed to not having Gordon as an option. Weeden said the best way to improve Cleveland's percentage on third-down is to have more positive plays on first and second downs.

''It's staying out of third and long, that's as simple as it gets,'' he said. ''You put yourself in better position on first and second down and give yourself a better chance.''

Gordon would make a difference, and another issue last week was the Browns' inability to get Richardson more involved. He caught two passes for 30 yards, but the second-year back wasn't the expected workhorse as the Browns seemed to abandon the run early.

When Gordon does return for the Sept. 22 game at Minnesota, Weeden will have several targets. Gordon's arrival will open space for Jordan and vice versa.

''Those two guys are guys we're going to count on throughout the entire year,'' Weeden said. ''They're guys that are big-play guys, matchup problems on any defense. They're guys we're going to look to make plays for us multiple times. So when we get Josh back, yeah it will be good. We have one more week without him so it's going to be to the grindstone, do what we have to do, and keep working.

''Keep getting better and we'll get there.''

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NOTES: WR/PR Travis Benjamin was limited in practice with a thigh injury. ... Safety T.J. Ward (shoulder), DE Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and RG Shawn Lauvao (ankle) were kept out of practice. Lauvao said he's been out of a walking boot for about a week. ... Chudzinski said he's keeping RB Bobby Rainey as his kickoff returner. ''We'll stick with Rainey,'' Chudzinski said. ''We do have some other guys and other options. We have some flexibility there.'' Rainey returned four kicks - all out of the end zone - last week and averaged 25.8 yards per return, but only took one past the 20.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Tagged: Browns, Josh Gordon, Dolphins, Brandon Weeden, Travis Benjamin, Bobby Rainey

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