The confidence of star Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has kept pace with his rapidly increasing production this year.
Gordon has overcome persistent early-season trade rumors, a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and a revolving door at quarterback to emerge as one of the top receivers in the league.
Despite playing with three different starting quarterbacks this season, Gordon has 64 catches for 1,249 yards and seven touchdowns, with four games still remaining. He ranks second in the NFL in receiving yardage, behind Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and is just 41 yards shy of topping Braylon Edwards' single-season franchise record of 1,289 receiving yards, set in 2007.
With an impressive combination of size and speed, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon is averaging 19.5 yards per reception. His best time in the 40-yard dash, he said, is 4.37 seconds.
"He's proven he can be an elite receiver in this league in terms of production, because he's already doing that,'' Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner told Cleveland reporters Thursday. "The great ones do it week to week to week, and then they do it two years in a row, then they do it three years in a row, and then they do it four year in a row."
Now here comes another test of Gordon's burgeoning status as one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL: On Sunday, he'll match up with veteran New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who's strong in man-to-man coverage.
"I'm pretty sure he'll make some plays, but I'm definitely going to make more plays,'' Gordon told Cleveland reporters Thursday. "He's a real physical, scrappy player, but I'm going to come out there and do the same, go out there and make plays myself and try to make sure that nobody can stop me.''
Talib complimented Gordon, saying Wednesday that the second-year player already belongs in the pantheon of top NFL receivers.
"He reminds you of those names — the Calvin Johnsons, the Andre Johnsons," Talib told New England reporters. "It's bigger guys with little-guy speed and quickness. He can turn an 8-yard curl into a touchdown in a heartbeat."
Talib isn't exaggerating. In his past two games, against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers, Gordon has a combined 24 receptions for 498 yards and three touchdowns. That includes a 95-yard touchdown in a loss to the Jaguars last Sunday.
Still, Gordon rarely gets double-team attention.
"I think most teams just don't respect us out here,'' Gordon said. "That's really what it is, so if they continue not to, we're just going to continue to make plays and hopefully we can get some more wins."
Gordon has a long history of off-field troubles. During his trouble-prone college days, he failed multiple drug tests for marijuana and transferred from Baylor to Utah, where he never played and which he ultimately left early for the 2011 supplemental draft. In August, a Sports Illustrated reporter accused Gordon of loafing during training camp.
"Apparently, what I do on the field, it's backing itself up," Gordon said Thursday. "So people say I'm loafing, but I feel as though I'm going 100 percent out there on the field, and I am going 100 percent on the field. So people will perceive or hear rumors and believe what they want to believe because of whatever negativity has been surrounding me, but I really pay no attention to it."
Second chance for Steelers' Adams
Offensive tackle Mike Adams has mostly disappointed as a starter since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the second round out of Ohio State last year.
After starting six games as a rookie in 2012, he lasted only four this season before being benched. His last start came in a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and defensive end Jared Allen, who had 2.5 sacks in London.
"I just didn't play well," Adams told Pittsburgh reporters, describing a poor stretch that also included six quarterback hits and 13 hurries. "But you just can't go in the tank when things don't go right."
With starter Kelvin Beachum (knee) doubtful to play Sunday, the Steelers could be forced to go back to Adams against a Miami Dolphins team headlined by formidable pass rushers Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.
"How you handle adversity is really the key thing," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "You can handle it a couple different ways, and he's chosen to handle it in a positive manner, and he has pushed harder to get better, knowing that his opportunity would come up again."
Bengals chasing perfection
The Cincinnati Bengals have a flawless home record this year, going 5-0 at Paul Brown Stadium heading into Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Bengals, who also have home games remaining against the Vikings and Ravens, haven't gone undefeated at home since the 1988 season, which ended with a loss in Super Bowl XXIII to the San Francisco 49ers.
"You enjoy a home-field advantage in the NFL, and that's a good thing," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who's 49-35-1 all-time at home, said during a press conference Wednesday. "That's why people come out to the games. It's going to be real football weather in Cincinnati on Sunday, so we have to be ready to take advantage of it and get after it. It's been great with our fans, and the loud crowd makes a difference."