SAN DIEGO, Ca. -- Duke Johnson was anything but "just another body on the field,'' like he described himself after his NFL debut. In fact, he outshined fellow rookie running back Melvin Gordon, who was picked No. 15 overall by the Chargers.
Gordon, out of Wisconsin, also won the 2014 Doak Walker award as the nation's best running back and was the runner up for the Heisman Trophy. But during Sunday's 30-27 loss to the Chargers, the Browns' third-round pick out of Miami was the undisputed star of the backfield.
He caught nine passes for 85 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown -- the first of his career -- on the left side of the end zone that put the Browns up 10-7 with 14:10 left in the third. He also rushed eight times for 31 yards and a 3.9-yard average.
"Anytime you have a back that can be a first or second down back between the tackles, and a guy that you can also split out your number one wide out and hit him on a vertical route, that puts a lot of stress on a defense,'' said coach Mike Pettine. "He certainly will be a big part of our plans moving forward. That's a pretty good glimpse of how we'll be using him."
Gordon, meanwhile, caught only two passes for 8 yards and ran 12 times for 38 yards and a 3.2-yard average. The Browns bottled him up well most of the day, except for a 23-yard run in the second quarter that led to a field goal for a 10-10 tie.
"That's one of the reasons why I'm here, I bring different element in the passing game, just helping him out when we get in trouble, just dink and dunk and be able to get yards,'' said Johnson.
On the touchdown, Johnson motioned out into the slot on the left side, leaving the backfield empty. In the back of the end zone, he beat inside linebacker Donald Butler on the TD, made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch and tiptoed both of his feet inbounds.
"First one for a running back to get a receiving touchdown, it was cool, I enjoyed it,'' said Johnson.
So did McCown, who threw for 356 yards, most since his career-high of 398 in 2005.
"The catch Duke made on the first touchdown was one of the best catches I've seen by a running back,'' said quarterback Josh McCown. "To track a deep ball like that and to catch it over his shoulder, that's not something that they get a ton of time practicing. For him to do that it was just very, very impressive and really encouraging."
The Browns got a scare when McCown got knocked into Johnson with 9:58 left and the running back was slow getting up. He walked off the field on his own and had his left ankle looked at. But he was back on the field on the next drive -- unfortunately only to lose five yards on a third down screen.
"I'm fine,'' he said. "I thought it was bad, but it's really nothing. I was able to go back in and help Crow out with the offense, do what I could do.''
McCown got fine performances out of both of his young running backs. Isaiah Crowell broke free for a 32-yard run that led to Johnson's TD catch two plays later, and turned a short dump over the middle into a 53-yard gain. He led the team with 63 rushing yards. Johnson's nine receptions tied for the fifth-most by a Browns running back in a game and were the most since 2002.
With Crowell (125) and Johnson (116), it marked the first time two Browns running backs each recorded more than 100 scrimmage yards in the same game since Nov. 17, 2004, when Lee Suggs (119) and William Green (115) did it against Cincinnati.
"They were awesome,'' said McCown. "Our young backs are coming along and that's something to be excited about. ... It's very, very encouraging what they were able to do today.
Like everyone else on the team, Johnson was crushed by the heartbreaking loss on the Josh Lambo field goal as time expired, a re-kick that occurred after Tramon Williams jumped offside on the first attempt.
"One thing it shows is we're going to fight to the end,'' said Johnson. "We're not going to lay down for anybody. It's tough, we fought back and both sides played hard, just couldn't come out with it.''