The Cleveland Browns are looking for a victory, and a spark, in their game at the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
The winless Browns (0-11) were in a similar pickle last year when facing the Chargers (5-6) on Christmas Eve. After losing their first 14 games, the Browns upended the Chargers in Cleveland for their only win of the season.
This year’s matchup comes a tad earlier but again the Browns are seeking their initial triumph. That they will try to do so against one of the NFL’s hottest teams is just another dose of bad luck.
But the Browns are hoping some good fortune falls their way. They will welcome back Josh Gordon, the former standout wide receiver who hasn’t played since the 2014 season because of suspensions. Gordon is eligible to come off the Commissioner’s Exempt list this week.
“Hopefully Josh will come back and bring a different spirit to our offensive football team, our football team, and he can make some plays,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said.
Jackson won’t be shy about pointing the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon at the Chargers. Gordon led the NFL with 1,643 receiving yards in 2013, his last full season.
“We know he is a heck of a receiver,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “He is still young so his skills haven’t gone down much. I’m sure they will figure out a way to get him involved They will probably try to get him the ball short and let him run with it. That’s what he is good at.”
The Chargers have been keen about moving the ball of late. An offense which sputtered from the gate and help cause the team’s 0-4 start is sizzling.
In their last two games over a five-day span, the Chargers scored 54 points in thumping the Buffalo Bills and gained 515 yards in rolling the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think they are a really good football team,” Jackson said. “They have a really great quarterback in Philip Rivers.”
Rivers is coming off one of the best games of his 14-year career. He torched the Cowboys for 434 passing yards, completing 27 of 33 passes (81.8 percent). His rating of 149.1 was the second-highest in the league this season and his third-best ever.
Keenan Allen has been Rivers’ favorite target of late. Allen, in his last two games, has 23 catches for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
“I don’t know if we can keep that pace of the last two weeks,” Rivers said. “But if we do, we will be in pretty good shape.”
Allen’s fitness level has been a plus. He was crushed after wrecking his knee early last year which derailed his season.
“He was starting off last year like he has been playing these last two games,” Rivers said. “He was devastated. Now you see that he is healthy.
“He’s got great instincts so he understands how to get open. And it’s just his understanding of the game. He knows every spot out there, not only at wide receiver, but up front and at the running back position. When you do that, it takes you to another level when you understand what everyone’s job is. You combine that with his ability and instincts and (his game) goes even further.”
The Browns can’t sink much deeper. They have lost 26 of the 27 games in which Jackson has been the head coach.
But Lynn senses the Browns’ affection for Jackson is leading to an impressive drive.
“I’m not there so I don’t know what the chemistry or the makeup of the team is,” Lynn said. “I just watch the tape and they play extremely hard. They are desperately trying to get that first win for their coach.”
Lynn said that’s just not coach-speak and the Chargers know it.
“Just bring the truth, tell them the truth, that this team is dangerous, they are winless,” Lynn said. “They are looking for their first win and they are going to play their butts off to get it.”
Among the Browns’ chores is keeping Joey Bosa (10.5 sacks) and Melvin Ingram (8.5) out of the backfield. The Chargers’ 32 sacks are fourth-best in the league.
“They have really good explosive players on defense, which is a huge problem,” Jackson said.
But Gordon, a one-time problem child for the Browns, is back.
“I have big plans for him,” Jackson said. “I plan for him to play and play as much as he can handle.”
The Browns have beaten the Chargers in two of their last three meetings. The Chargers lead the series, 15-9-1.