TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — When Josh McCown was asked by Browns wide receivers Terrelle Pryor and Josh Gordon — players who are much younger than him — to join them and watch “Monday Night Football,” Cleveland’s quarterback didn’t pass up the chance.
“When the invite is there, I will go hang,” McCown said.
The curious trio of teammates will be huddling again Sunday.
McCown, who stayed steady this summer as trade speculation swirled, will replace an injured Robert Griffin III and start Sunday’s home opener against Baltimore. Griffin broke a bone in his left shoulder last week in Philadelphia and will miss at least eight games.
So the Browns (0-1) will turn their offense back over to the capable McCown, whose future in Cleveland seemed tenuous for several months. However, despite fielding several offers for the 37-year-old, the Browns chose to hang on to McCown, a decision that looks shrewder after Griffin went down.
“Josh is a pro’s pro,” said Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas. “You don’t survive 15 years in the NFL without knowing how to take care of your business, even in the face of adversity.”
McCown is relishing another chance, knowing better than anyone he doesn’t have many left. His first season with Cleveland was sabotaged by injury, and time is running out on a career that began in 2002 — when many of his current teammates were still in grade school.
“For my age, these opportunities, I don’t take them lightly,” he said. “The opportunity to get out there, certainly when that is taken away, it eats at you. Throughout the offseason, it is always in the back of your mind, and the next opportunity you have to make the most of it because you do not know. That is my plan this time around.”
McCown experienced extreme highs and lows last season against the Ravens (1-0). He passed for a team-record 457 yards and led the Browns to one of their three wins, a 33-30 overtime thriller at Baltimore on Oct. 11. When the teams met again six weeks later, McCown broke his collarbone and missed the final five games.
When Cleveland signed RG3 as a free agent in March and then selected rookie Cody Kessler in the third round of April’s draft, it appeared McCown’s days with the Browns were numbered. He blocked out the trade rumors and did what he has always done: whatever the team needed.
Even before he was beaten out by Griffin for the Browns’ starting job in training camp, McCown selflessly stepped aside and offered his snaps so RG3 could have more time with the starters.
It’s that selflessness that has endeared him to teammates past and present. And it’s why the Browns, who have 17 rookies on their roster, are grateful to have him to teach their young players, to lead them, and, to hopefully win with them.
“I’m full speed ahead with Josh,” coach Hue Jackson said. “I think he will go out and play extremely well, and help lead our offense and get us to playing football the way we need to play, and give us an opportunity. We expect him to do that. That is why we kept him here.”
For all the positive testimonials about McCown’s character, there’s no escaping that he’s just 2-17 in his last two seasons as a starter for Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Although he was on the way to his best statistical season in 2015, McCown was 1-7 for the Browns.
Pryor, the QB-turned-wide receiver who spent part of the offseason working out with McCown, said focusing on McCown’s record is unfair. There’s more than meets the eye.
“Last year, he lit a lot of teams up,” Pryor said. “The guy knows how to play. What we love about Josh is that he’s the ultimate competitor. You can see it in his eyes and the way he talks in the huddle.”
McCown was with Pryor and Gordon, who is serving another four-game drug suspension, when Browns owner Jimmy Haslam called to discuss Griffin’s injury and offer him support.
“Which made me feel good for a lot of different reasons,” Haslam said. “Josh McCown is as good a person as I’ve ever met anywhere. He’s just incredible.”
McCown never thought twice about whether his being with much younger teammates appeared odd.
“It is good to be around those guys,” he said. “It keeps me young. I’ve been the ‘old guy’ for the past five years.”
NOTES: Jackson said he doesn’t have a problem with his players celebrating following a big play, as long as they keep it within reason. “I want our guys to have a little swagger to them,” he said. “If that is what makes us play good, more power to them. As long as the dances don’t turn into something I’ve never seen before, we will be OK.”