Nelson, who hadn’t played in a game since tearing the ACL in his right knee in the 2012 season opener, held two assumptions about his return. First, he thought he would get really emotional prior to Thursday’s preseason game with the Chicago Bears because of how much he had gone through to return to the field. Second, he expected his performance would again meet his high standards.
Neither went according to plan.
Nelson did make his season debut and caught a team-high four passes for 54 yards, but he wasn’t overcome with emotion and he wasn’t pleased with how he played.
“[The game wasn’t as emotional] as I thought it would be,” said Nelson, who had 61 receptions for 658 yards and five touchdowns for Buffalo in 2011. “There was a time before the national anthem and before the game started I got emotional. Once we stepped on the field, it was just playing football again.
“It was a special moment [being back]. It really was. Obviously, today wasn’t the way I wanted. I think I’m my harshest critic. I just didn’t play the way I wanted to. It wasn’t because of the knee. I wasn’t out there slipping because of the knee. It just didn’t go the way I wanted to.”
Nelson first got involved in the Browns’ offense in the second quarter. He missed his first opportunity at a catch when he wasn’t looking as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer threw him the ball. But five plays later, Hoyer went back to Nelson, and Nelson hauled in a 4-yard reception.
Nelson was targeted 10 times, and his longest reception was for 21 yards. He reported no pain in his knee, but he did suffer leg cramps late in the game.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski understood Nelson wasn’t satisfied with his day, but he believed it was a positive starting point.
“I thought it was great he got back out there,” Chudzinski said. “You know what? I know there’s a few plays he’d like to have back. Playing in a NFL game, you get tired, and he was tired by the end. Those guys got a lot of reps. We had limited guys to begin with. It was really good to see him. He made a couple plays. Those are the kind of experiences you can build on.”
In other notes from the Browns' 18-16 victory:
Quarterback Jason Campbell, who was expected to start, missed the game due to flu-like symptoms. Hoyer played the entire game and was 24-of-35 passing for 307 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Kicker Shayne Graham did not play after his back tightened up in warm-ups. Punter Spencer Lanning was thrown into the emergency-kicker role. Lanning, who was a placekicker/punter in college, missed a 41-yard field goal on his first attempt but connected from 32 yards and 40 yards on his following two attempts. The latter proved to be the game winner in the Browns’ 18-16 victory. He also punted twice for a 52-yard average.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon played in his final game before serving a two-game suspension for a positive codeine test. Gordon had catches of 45 and 32 yards Thursday. “Josh can come to the facility over the course of the next two weeks,” Chudzinski said. “He can be at meetings, and he can work out in the weight room and run and that type of thing. He can get treatment. So he can be around. He can’t be out at practice. He can’t do any of those type of things with the team.”