Gordon decision, Gonzalez misses, add to Browns’ misfortune
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A day after deciding to move on from troubled receiver Josh Gordon, the Cleveland Browns now have cause to consider cutting loose their kicker, too.
The Browns were kicking themselves after yet another missed opportunity Sunday, losing 21-18 to the Saints in no small part because Zane Gonzalez missed two field goals and two extra points.
All four errant kicks came in the second half — two in the final 76 seconds — as the Browns blew a 12-3 fourth quarter lead and have lost 18 of their last 19 games.
Gonzalez hooked an extra point wide left with 1:16 remaining after Antonio Callaway’s spectacular 47-yard touchdown reception on a fourth-down pass tied the score at 18. He then pushed a 52-yard field goal well right of the uprights with 3 seconds remaining after the Saints went back ahead on Wil Lutz’s 44-yard field goal 18 seconds earlier.
“It was on me a hundred percent,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t blame it on anybody else. We were so close to that win and it’s been so long, and I just let everybody down.”
Cleveland (0-1-1), which has not won since Dec. 24, 2016, has the lone non-loss a tie last week against Pittsburgh. In that one, Gonzalez had a 43-yard field goal blocked in the final seconds of overtime.
This one was worse. Callaway’s dramatic touchdown, when he chased down a heave from Tyrod Taylor in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-6, electrified the Browns’ sideline.
Gonzalez took away that energy immediately.
“I was like, all right, let’s put this extra point through,” guard Joel Bitonio said. “But we missed it.”
Gonzalez’s final attempt, the 52-yard field goal after Taylor completed two passes for 41 yards in 18 seconds, was not close.
“I’m not going to lie about it,” Gonzalez said. “It snowballed. I was pulling them, and the last one I pushed it because I was overcompensating. I get paid to make those kicks, and I have to make them.”
Browns coach Hue Jackson was noncommittal whether he would look for a new kicker.
“I don’t know that,” he said. “We will address all of that once we get in (the office) tomorrow.”
The Browns already know they will be without Gordon after announcing Saturday they intend to cut ties with the former Pro Bowl receiver. He missed the Saints game with a mysterious hamstring injury after practicing all week, and has played in only 11 games since the start of 2014 due to multiple suspensions under the league’s substance abuse policy. He was listed as inactive Sunday, leaving open the possibility he could be traded rather than released.
Jackson did not go into detail publicly about why the club decided to move on a day before playing in New Orleans, but said it was discussed with the team.
“I’ve always been honest and up front with our guys about what we’re doing as an organization,” Jackson said. “I told them that last night and nobody flinched. They understood it. Again, 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.”
Jackson agreed that such a decision about a player with Gordon’s talent could erode some teams’ morale, “if you’re not strong enough.”
“I just think we have strong enough leaders,” Jackson added.
Callaway, a rookie out of Florida, replaced Gordon’s big-play role with his touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Browns refused to place all the blame for their latest disappointment on Gonzalez, citing other critical mistakes.
An illegal contact penalty on safety Derrick Kindred nullified a third-down sack by defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi in the fourth quarter. Drew Brees capitalized with a touchdown pass that closed Cleveland’s lead to 12-10.
With 4:51 left, Saints safety Marcus Williams intercepted Taylor’s pass at the Cleveland 40 and returned it to the 18, setting up a go-ahead touchdown.
“You can’t put your team in that situation,” Taylor said.
Not on a day when the kicker could not kick straight.
Gonzalez, a seventh-round draft pick out of Arizona State in 2017 — he was the FBS all-time career leader in field goals made (96) and points by a kicker (494) when he left school — missed his first extra point after the Browns went up 12-3 in the third quarter. He was wide left on a 44-yard field goal that would have given them a 15-3 early in the fourth quarter, sending him into a funk that affected his final two attempts.
“I was cursing myself out in my head,” he said. “I’m really upset about it.”