BEREA, Ohio (AP) – An avid film buff and part-time critic, Browns tight end Gary Barnidge takes 10 fans and a few teammates to the movies every week.
He picks up the tab on tickets, popcorn and drinks.
“I’m always going to the movies,” he said. “It’s my thing.”
And like one of those supporting actors who finally gets his big break by landing a juicy role, Barnidge has become an unlikely star in Cleveland.
Barnidge leads the Browns with 24 receptions, only 20 fewer than his combined total over the past seven seasons. In last week’s 33-30 overtime win against Baltimore, Barnidge had eight catches for 139 yards and made the play of the game – and maybe the season – by hauling in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Josh McCown using his legs, feet and butt.
In his past three games, Barnidge has collected 319 yards and three TDs.
“I don’t know that we can say we expected him to have the production that he has had,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “Gary is a good football player and we have known that for a long time. He gets open. He catches the ball. He can run after the catch. Certainly, I don’t think any of us knew of his ability to make the circus catch, but he understands defensive football very well.”
Barnidge’s unexpected emergence has been a major plus for the Browns (2-3), who will face Denver’s top-ranked defense on Sunday. When former Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron left as a free agent and with wide receiver Josh Gordon suspended for a year, Cleveland’s offense was lacking a big target over the middle.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Barnidge, who spent five seasons in Carolina before signing with Cleveland in 2013, is more of a tight end in the traditional sense. He’s not as athletic as someone like Seattle’s Jimmy Graham, but has a knack for finding soft spots in a defense.
And if the ball is thrown in his direction, he usually snares it.
With the Browns trailing the Ravens 21-16, quarterback Josh McCown, under heavy blitz pressure, lofted the ball toward the edge of the end zone and Barnidge, who was being covered by safety Will Hill. As he was falling, Barnidge trapped the ball with his calves and squeezed it with his feet before reaching down and securing it with his hands.
The amazing grab came one week after he made a one-handed snag near the goal line to set up a game-tying TD in San Diego.
McCown joked that he can’t wait to see what trick Barnidge has in store for the Broncos.
“He’s on a roll now and he tends to do something every week,” said McCown, who was Barnidge’s teammate for two seasons with the Panthers. “He might not be as sexy a guy like (Chargers tight end) Antonio Gates. “But he catches balls and does a good job when the ball’s around him. I can’t say enough about him.”
More in demand for interviews than at any time as a pro, Barnidge is trying to take his newfound celebrity in stride. He spent part of this week defending his athletic ability after Pettine and a few teammates pointed out his “weird” running style.
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Barnidge – and others – underestimate him.
“He’s a much better athlete than he gives himself credit for,” he said. “From Day One he’s shown tremendous ball skills and he’s able to separate. He’s not afraid to make contact with a defender while keeping his outside shoulder free if he knows he’s making an out-breaking move. Those little tricks of the trade, I don’t want to say Gary has mastered, but gotten a lot better at and understanding.”
His incredible grab would have made for the perfect film ending, but Barnidge feels there are several important scenes ahead.
“Season’s not over,” he said. “We’ve got to keep going, so you can’t dwell on that kind of stuff.”
NOTES: Browns CB Joe Haden (concussion), S Tashaun Gipson (ankle) and LB Craig Robertson (ankle) did not practice. … RB Robert Turbin expects to play Sunday after missing five games with a high-ankle sprain.