BEREA — A well-played game from a new starting quarterback has amazing powers.
The Browns have lost three straight to slip to 3-5 and are three games behind the Bengals in the AFC North. The defense can’t put two good halves together. The running game doesn’t scare anyone. And punt returner Travis Benjamin and his blazing speed were lost for the season Sunday with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Yet the outlook was rather rosy among coaches and players following a 23-17 loss to the Chiefs.
“We’ve had a tough stretch against some very good teams here,” rookie coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday. “I think the guys have learned that when we are on our game and playing consistently that we can compete and go toe-to-toe with anybody.”
Chudzinski is too new on the job to lose optimism at the midpoint of the season and has preached a similar message regardless of who he was starting at quarterback. But Jason Campbell’s solid performance on the road against the undefeated Chiefs revived the locker room.
“Jason, I think he did a great job,” outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. “He made plays, put us in a position to win. If our defense would’ve come out and played the first half the way we did the second it would have been a completely different ballgame.”
Campbell was making just his second start since 2011, the first with the Browns. He went 22-for-36 for 293 yards, two touchdowns, a sack, no interceptions and a 105.4 rating. After three three-and-outs to open the game, he led three straight scoring drives to cut the deficit to 20-17.
Chudzinski surprised no one Monday by naming Campbell the starter for Sunday’s visit from the Baltimore Ravens (3-4). Brandon Weeden will remain the backup.
“I think that his ability to come in in a short week of practice and be as sharp as he was and also in a tough place with the noise and the difficulty in communication, I thought he did an outstanding job of that,” Chudzinski said. “He was able to manage the game. He was able to escape and get out of some trouble and create some plays. He did a good job from a decision-making standpoint as far as protecting the football and he gave us a lift in that game. So we’re real pleased with how he played.”
Campbell showed all of the qualities his teammates lauded in the run-up to the game — poise, leadership, strong arm, deceptive mobility. He limited mistakes while making several plays and, much like Brian Hoyer earlier in the season, provided a glimpse of what coordinator Norv Turner’s offense can be.
“I think as the game went on and Jason was into the game and playing the way he was playing we were able to do everything we wanted to do,” Chudzinski said.
The most important accomplishment for Campbell was restoring the team’s faith that the offense is capable of keeping up with the opponent and keeping the Browns in the game. That wasn’t a given with Weeden in the huddle, as he lost all four of his starts.
The difference from Weeden to Hoyer and then Weeden to Campbell was startling, and begged the question: Why did Weeden start the season?
“Brandon was somebody we didn’t know a lot about and we wanted to find out more about him and he showed well and did well in the practices and the preseason,” Chudzinski said. “The production hasn’t been there in the regular season that we would like.
“He’s one play away from playing and he’s still a developing player. He has a good upside. He needs to continue to work, which is what his approach is right now.”
When Hoyer went down with a season-ending torn ACL in Week 5, Chudzinski again bypassed Campbell in favor of Weeden.
“The first few games, there were things Brandon had done well,” Chudzinski said. “In different stretches and at different points he was doing the things you would like him to do.”
Chudzinski made the move to Campbell last week and it provided the desired boost. But the game isn’t all about quarterback play.
The defense allowed 281 yards and 20 points in the first half before buckling down to hold the Chiefs to 50 yards and three points after halftime. Dropped passes continued to be a problem on offense, as well as a running game that has lacked explosion. The Browns committed nine penalties Sunday and have 21 over the last two weeks.
Chudzinski kept coming back to the need for consistency.
“We’ve talked a lot to those guys about mindset and having the same mindset at all different points in the game,” he said. “Now, they’re all human and there’s the ebbs and flows of a game that affects those things. It’s about having that consistent mindset and playing with the same level from a mental and physical standpoint.
“It’s a matter of consistently putting it together for four quarters. That’s what the mission is we’re on right now.”
Kruger said there’s only one way for a young team to learn that lesson.
“It’s going to be trial and error,” he said. “A lot of it is just getting these experiences under your belt, spending more time on the field and it’s a mentality. You have to bring the same energy level and focus and mentality to every single game every week or else you’re not going to play very good.
“I feel like a lot of good things are happening, just get a little more of them and a little more often and we’re going to be right there. I feel like our ability is off the charts, it’s just making it happen.”
With eight games left — four inside the division, including the next three — the Browns don’t feel it’s too late to make something of the season. As long as Campbell keeps playing well and they solve their problems.
“We could be a lot better than what we are,” nose tackle Phil Taylor said. “We have to fix the mistakes. We have to figure a way to win those games.”
Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.
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