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Josh Gordon shines in preseason debut for Browns

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Josh Gordon showed why the Cleveland Browns are so happy to have him back on the field.

The talented receiver with a history of suspensions for drug violations caught everything thrown his way in his preseason debut Friday night, scoring on a 43-yard reception and also hauling in another pass from Robert Griffin III for a 44-yard gain that led to a first quarter field goal in a 30-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jameis Winston threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns in one half of work for the Bucs, who achieved an objective of starting faster on offense than they did the previous two weeks.

Griffin completed 8 of 14 passes for 119 yards, one TD and no interceptions before being replaced by Josh McCown at the start of the third quarter. Gordon was only targeted twice and finished with 87 yards receiving, both his catches coming when he beat cornerback Brent Grimes, one of Tampa Bay’s key offseason acquisitions.

Gordon, whose preseason debut was delayed by a quadriceps injury, hadn’t played since December 2014. He was suspended all of last season for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse, and won’t be eligible for the first four games of this regular season.

A Pro Bowl selection in 2013 when he had 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine TDs, Gordon has been the subject of trade speculation during training camp. Although the Browns have said they’re not interested in moving him, and Gordon has said he wants to remain in Cleveland, club executive Sashi Brown said Thursday that like any player, there is a price for the 25-year-old receiver, who has been suspended for 27 of the last 32 games.

The NFL Network reported Friday that price is a “second-rounder and more.”

BIG PLAY DUO

Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans had five receptions for 115 yards, including a 34-yard TD from Winston, who completed 16 of 25 passes in what likely was his final tuneup for the regular season.

ROOKIE WATCH

Browns: First-round draft pick WR Corey Coleman played after sitting out the first preseason games with a sore hamstring.

Buccaneers: Struggling K Roberto Aguayo rebounded from missing three kicks in the first two weeks of the preseason, booting field goals of 48, 21 and 27 yards and making all three of his extra points. The second-round draft pick missed an extra point at Philadelphia two weeks ago, then failed to convert a pair of field goals against Jacksonville. He had a rough week in practice, too, missing two field goals and getting booed by fans attending a Browns-Bucs joint practice.

POSITION BATTLES

Browns: CB Jamar Taylor, who has replaced Tramon Williams as a starter, got spun around in coverage on Evans’ TD catch.

Buccaneers: LG Josh Allen and RG Evan Smith filled in for starters Kevin Pamphile and Ali Marpet, who did not dress.

NEW LOOK

The Buccaneers unveiled six new video boards with a total display area of 28,416 square feet, which the team says is the third largest in the NFL. The Hall of Fame Club, a premium seating area located on the suite level of Raymond James Stadium, also made its debut.

INJURY UPDATE:

Browns: In addition to Gordon (quad) and Coleman, CB Joe Haden (ankle surgery) made his preseason debut; CB Tramon Williams (toe) did not dress; C Cameron Erving (ankle), played after being hurt during Wednesday’s joint practice; CB Justin Gilbert (concussion) and WR Marlon Moore (hip) left the game in the second quarter.

Buccaneers: WR Donteea Dye suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter and did not return; LB Daryl Smith, TE Luke Stocker, DT Clinton McDonald and reserve RB Mike James did not dress.

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

The NFL’s final 4 all overcame injuries to star players

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The list of players sitting out this weekend’s conference championships is almost as impressive as the starting lineups: Julian Edelman. Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook. Dont'a Hightower. Allen Robinson. Sam Bradford.

Following the NFL’s season of carnage that claimed the likes of, among others, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe Thomas, this year’s final four all overcame not only the odds – “Minneapolis Miracle , anyone?” – but devastating injuries to key starters.

“We have a tough and resilient team,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said of the NFC’s top seed , which is missing its second-year QB in Wentz, an MVP hopeful when he blew out a knee in December.

Even before Wentz’s injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs, the Eagles lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, versatile return specialist Darren Sproles, and special teams captain Chris Maragos.

Yet, here they are, 60 minutes from Minneapolis and Super Bowl 52.

“I think that starts at the top with Doug, because he sets the tone for being resilient and even keeled,” Long said of his coach, Doug Pederson. “At the end of the day, we have a tough group of guys.”

So do the Minnesota Vikings, who are trying to reach their first Super Bowl in more than four decades and fulfill mantra to “Bring it Home” and become the first NFL team to play the title game in its own stadium.

And they’re doing so behind Case Keenum, who crashed Tom Brady‘s playoff party along with fellow perennial backup Foles and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

Together, the four quarterbacks left standing have a combined five Super Bowl rings, two NFL MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP trophies. Brady, of course, owns all of that hardware himself.

Such is the panorama of these playoffs following a season of pain in which so many superstars were rendered sideline spectators with broken bones, snapped ligaments, torn muscles.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford, now back in uniform as Keenum’s backup, blew out a knee in the first month of the season, as did rookie running back in Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Behind resilient coach Mike Zimmer , who resisted the urge to quit just before he got the Vikings’ head coaching gig in 2014, Minnesota rolled right along. Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

“We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Patriots are also a bunch of fighters; they reached their seventh straight AFC title game despite losing Edelman, Brady’s top target, to a torn ACL in the preseason, and Hightower to a torn chest muscle in November.

Play caller Josh McDaniels and Brady, who led New England to a fifth Super Bowl title last year despite the absence of Rob Gronkowski, adjusted accordingly to Edelman’s absence with another terrific year.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stepped in for Hightower and ranked third on the team with 73 tackles and second with 5+ sacks despite missing three of the final five games with a calf injury.

Van Noy’s sack total was just a half-sack shy of Hightower’s career high set in 2014.

“The thing about K.V. is he’s very versatile,” said Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty. “So we’ve used him a bunch of different ways. … He’s been a big asset to our team.”

The Jaguars are the healthiest of the remaining playoff teams. They have only one opening-day starter on injured reserve: former Pro Bowl receiver Robinson, who tore his left ACL on Jacksonville’s opener.

Four months removed from reconstructive surgery, Robinson is now traveling with the team, so he’ll be on the sideline Sunday at New England, serving as a mentor to a raw receiving corps.

“Every person in this locker room put in a lot of work to get to this point, with me being one of them,” said Robinson, who was poised for another big year after dominating the league’s best secondary in training camp.

His injury on Jacksonville’s third offensive snap created a huge void for the offense. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns tried to pick up the slack, but they ended up on the sideline at one point with injuries, too, leaving rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to assume bigger roles.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan, had 42 catches for 748 yards and three scores in the regular season. He added a clutch 45-yard catch that set up a late TD in Jacksonville’s 45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh last week.

“I wish I could just wake up tomorrow and feel like I did Sept. 9,” Robinson said, “but I understand it’s going to be a process. I know I’ll be back to that point and better.”

Like so many other stars, Robinson will be in street clothes Sunday, cheering on his teammates in hopes of getting a sideline pass to the Super Bowl.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

With contributions from AP Pro Football Writers Rob Maaddi and Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Mark Long and Kyle Hightower.

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Steratore will lead 7-person officiating crew for Super Bowl

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NEW YORK (AP) Referee Gene Steratore will lead the seven-person crew of on-field game officials working the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The other members of the officiating crew for the Feb. 4 game are Roy Ellison (umpire), Jerry Bergman (down judge), Byron Boston (line judge), Tom Hill (field judge), Scott Edwards (side judge) and Perry Paganelli (back judge).

The crew has 127 years of NFL officiating experience and 101 combined playoff game assignments.

Steratore entered the league in 2003 as a field judge and was promoted to referee in 2006. He has officiated 11 playoff games, including two conference championships. He was the alternate referee for the 2010 Super Bowl.

Under the NFL officiating program’s evaluation system, officials must be rated in the top tier at their position to be eligible for the Super Bowl. They must have at least five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.

Paul Weidner is the replay official.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL