April 16, 2014

Medina
Sunny
26°F

Browns: Concussions muddy who will start Sunday

BEREA — The Browns blew four leads Sunday, including one in the final minute, to lose to lowly Jacksonville. They have dropped three straight and six of seven to fall to 4-8.

They travel to New England on Sunday to face Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the first-place Patriots (9-3).

And they don’t know who will play quarterback.

Brandon Weeden, who started and finished Sunday, was diagnosed with a concussion after the game and sent home from team headquarters Monday, coach Rob Chudzinski said.

Weeden only played against the Jaguars because Jason Campbell sustained a concussion a week earlier in a loss to Pittsburgh. Chudzinski said Campbell had been cleared for activity, but not yet given the OK to practice.

The other quarterback on the roster is Alex Tanney, who was signed last week and has never played in an NFL game.

“These next 24 to 48 hours will be key,” Chudzinski said. “We have a number of contingency plans and we’ll see, as I get more information, how that plays out.”

If Campbell continues to progress and is cleared to practice and play, he’d be the logical choice. Weeden would be next up, but just entered the NFL concussion protocol.

If neither is ready for the start of practice Wednesday, the Browns would be forced to add a quarterback for the second straight week. They could prepare Tanney to start or sign a veteran with starting experience — perhaps Caleb Hanie — and hand him the ball in New England.

“All of the possibilities are open right now,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll have to see how it plays out during the course of the week, when guys can practice or be cleared to practice, or be cleared to play, then how much practice time they would need in those situations. It may be different for each guy.”

Chudzinski has had to deal with a lot of tough situations, but none tougher than the quarterback carousel that keeps spinning.

He’s already made four switches at starter — Weeden to Brian Hoyer (who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament), back to Weeden, to Campbell, back to Weeden — and could be facing a fifth.

But Chudzinski remains, in his own word, “undaunted.”

“Losing is not acceptable,” he said. “It’s not a mystery. There’s no curse. It’s not a matter of bad luck. There’s tangible reasons why we lost that game. We made critical mistakes and breakdowns that we can control as coaches and as players.”

Chudzinski is in his first year as head coach but his third stint with the Browns. He also grew up in Toledo cheering for Cleveland, so he’s familiar with the only-in-Cleveland, here-we-go-again mentality that becomes more pervasive every year.

He offered a pre-emptive strike against that mindset.

“There’s a lot of good things happening,” he said. “I see good signs in the direction and the progress this team is making in a lot of ways. Those things get overshadowed by the end results.

“But this is what I came here for. We have a plan. I believe in that plan and I’ll navigate us through this to the better days that lay ahead for us. I’m fully committed and undaunted in doing that.”

The 32-28 loss to the Jaguars followed blowouts to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Cornerback Joe Haden, who allowed the winning touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts III with 40 seconds left, had seen enough. His eyes were filled with tears and his sentences with expletives as he expressed his frustration level in the minutes after the game.

He was much calmer Monday, but still spoke with great passion.

“If you don’t feel upset, if you’re not angry, it doesn’t mean anything to you,” he said. “I just know that, I hope you all know, everybody knows, that it’s not OK to lose, no matter how much money you get at the end of the day. I want to be the best; I want my team to be the best. I want us to be successful, because I’m just used to success.”

Haden doesn’t know the missing ingredient keeping the Browns from becoming a winner, but he knows what it’s not.

“There’s no such thing as a curse,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a curse.”

Haden isn’t the only player fed up. Safety T.J. Ward last week and nose tackle Phil Taylor on Sunday pointed to the offense’s recent run of turnovers — 11 in the three-game skid plus a safety on a bad snap — as the reason for the losses.

“The frustration is natural. I have it,” Chudzinski said. “The key is that we funnel it and use it as fuel to take us in the right direction and to get better and step forward the next time we have an opportunity.”

Weeden was charged with three turnovers — all in the final 2:47 of the first half. He was intercepted trying for tight end Jordan Cameron down the seam, intercepted looking for receiver Greg Little on an out and lost a fumble when right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was pushed back by end Jason Babin.

“They weren’t good decisions,” Chudzinski said of the interceptions. “The coverage was tight and those are the things that I know Brandon would want back. He did play very well at times. He made some good decisions and some great throws. But those are the things that we have to correct and get better at.”

Weeden played every snap and went 24-for-40 for 370 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 94.8 rating. Chudzinski said he didn’t know on what play Weeden sustained the concussion — he may have been hit in the helmet by Babin on a slide in the third quarter — or if it affected his performance.

Chudzinski was asked if he would bench Weeden, if healthy, because of the turnovers that led to 13 Jaguars points.

“Let’s let these next couple of days sort themselves out and we’ll look where everybody is at that point,” he said.

Tanney is currently the healthiest option. He would be the 21st quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999, and the team would match 2008 by starting four in a season.

“If Alex is the guy, then we’ll have him ready and have him working and he’ll have a package he can be successful with,” Chudzinski said.

Tanney vs. Brady looks like an epic mismatch, but the Browns aren’t conceding anything.

“We’re going to come and fight every week,” Ward said. “That sorry feeling, that’s for losers. We’re not losers at all.”

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.