By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Browns cornerback Joe Haden proved to be prophetic when he said last week that the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens are not the Ravens of old. The even better news for the Browns is that they’re not the same team, either, and quarterback Jason Campbell has a lot to do with it.
Campbell bounced back from an injury to his ribs suffered late in the first quarter and tied a career high with three touchdown passes to lead the Browns over the Ravens 24-18 on Sunday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. With the win, the Browns snapped their three-game losing streak and their 11-game skid against the Ravens, who prevailed 14-6 in the series Sept. 15 in Baltimore.
“I wasn’t coming out of the game,” Campbell said during his postgame news conference. “They would have to drag me out of the game. I wanted to stay out there with those guys and keep fighting. We talked all week about needing to get this win.”
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Campbell underwent X-rays after the game but doesn’t believe he broke any ribs.
“I don’t really know the severity of it yet, but I doubt that they are broken,” Campbell said. … “I’ve been in this game so long I could tell if something was broken.”
Campbell’s gutsy performance helped the Browns lift the huge burden of constantly losing to the Ravens. It’s the first time the Browns have defeated the Ravens since Nov. 18, 2007, the first time Ravens coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco have lost to the Browns and the first time the Ravens have fell coming off a bye during Harbaugh’s six-year tenure.
“Like Joe [Haden] said, and I said too, they’re not the same team as they were last year,” nose tackle Phil Taylor said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re not the same team.”
Although it’s still early, the Browns (4-5) will now enter their Week 10 bye with a legitimate shot to become part of the postseason discussion if they can establish a winning streak after the break. Their next game Nov. 17 at the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) could have significant playoff implications. The Browns defeated the Bengals 17-6 on Sept. 29 in Cleveland. The Bengals and Ravens (3-5) will face each other Sunday.
“We know we’re in the hunt,” inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “That’s all we can do at this point in time, just win enough games, stay in the hunt and we’ll see where this season takes us.”
In his second start for the Browns since supplanting benched quarterback Brandon Weeden, Campbell completed 23-of-35 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He posted a passer rating of 116.6, took three sacks and did not throw an interception, helping the Browns capture their first win since Oct. 3 against the Buffalo Bills.
And he did most of it while pushing through pain after 6-4, 340-pound nose tackle Haloti Ngata fell on him in the opening quarter.
“It was extremely hard,” Campbell said of playing with the injury. “I tried to do the best that I could in order to help the guys around me. They gave me time to make some plays and make some throws. I kept telling them to just give me time because my ribs were really bothering and hurting me. It was bothering me on a couple of throws, but I really wanted to cut it loose and it was kind of grabbing me. I couldn’t really get what I wanted to put on the ball. This league is all about pressing on. With the division that we play in, I don’t think anybody at this time in the season is playing with 100 percent. There are a lot of guys that are banged up and beat up.”
With the Browns leading by three points, coach Rob Chudzinski took a risk by aggressively electing to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Ravens’ 43-yard line with 3:12 remaining. After the Browns took a timeout to talk about their play selection, Campbell rolled right under pressure and completed a 3-yard pass to wide receiver Davone Bess, who dived with cornerback Lardarius Webb on his heels to make the catch for a first down.
“We had the opportunity to take the game at that point,” Chudzinski said of his decision to go for it late in the fourth quarter. “It was a potential punt situation, but Baltimore was playing so well and was able to drive so well. I felt good about our guys and us being able to convert and get that first down right there. Jason made a whale of a play.”
And Bess made a clutch catch. He also caught two touchdown passes, redeeming himself after dropping three passes and fumbling a punt at a crucial time in the fourth quarter last week during a 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It was a play that we were trying to hit the running back,” Campbell said of the fourth-and-1. “I’m not even sure if I called the right play, first of all. It was a play that we were trying to get something quick and get the ball out of our hands. But we also wanted to make sure that we got the first down. I didn’t want to throw it unless I knew somebody was going to be open. If we incomplete the pass, then we would have left four minutes on the clock. I said to myself that I would just have to scramble around to see if I could find somebody open.
“It was a huge play, probably the biggest play of the game. I was so happy for him [Bess] to come back in a similar situation from a week ago and step up to make a play to get open. I couldn’t be more proud of a guy. Davone made a great play and played a great game overall.”
Campbell was shaken up after being hit while making the pivotal throw.
“[Running back] Willis McGahee, we’re the old guys on the team, I recall hearing, ‘Get up. Get up. You’ve got to get up. I’m hurt. You’ve got to get up,’ ” said Campbell, 31. “I was going to get up, anyway. I’m like, ‘Gosh, give me at least 10 seconds, I can’t breathe right now.’ ”
Campbell later flipped the ball to fullback Chris Ogbonnaya for a 14-yard gain, and another 5 yards was tacked on because the Ravens were penalized for a horse-collar tackle.
“Just a big-time play,” Ogbonnaya said. “Jason’s definitely very poised and able to go through his reads. I was able to trickle out and was able to get a first down.”
The Browns then ran the ball three times, and Billy Cundiff made a 22-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to extend their lead to 24-18. The 15-play, 67-yard drive allowed the Browns to take 6 minutes, 30 seconds off the clock.
The Ravens ran two desperation plays at the end, but they never came close to scoring. Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and Jackson are the only members of the Browns who were with the team in 2007 when it defeated the Ravens.
“It feels great,” Thomas said. “Hopefully we’ve renewed a rivalry a little bit.”
The Browns encountered quite a scare when inside linebacker Arthur Brown sacked Campbell, and Ngata knocked Campbell out of the game by falling on him. Weeden, who’s 0-4 as a starter this season, replaced Campbell with 2:02 left in the first quarter and the drive fizzled. But fortunately for the Browns, Campbell missed only four offensive plays.
“He got banged up a bit and just to see him come back out, that gave the entire team a lift,” Jackson said. “I can tell you that. I didn’t expect him to come back and when I saw him come back, it just juiced everyone. Everyone was excited, and at that point, you got a sense of confidence throughout the entire team that we were going to do whatever it takes to win this game.”
Campbell threw touchdown passes of 1 and 20 yards to Bess to lead the Browns to a 14-10 halftime lead. The first touchdown was a result of Chudzinski gambling on fourth-and-goal at the 1 instead of settling for a field goal.
The Browns have converted 10-of-19 fourth downs this season. No NFL team has gone for it on fourth down as many times as the Browns this season.
“I’m going to be aggressive,” Chudzinski said. “It’s not just a matter of being reckless, but it’s a matter of being aggressive. Sometimes it’s going to work. Sometimes it’s not going to work, and I understand that. Fortunately, it paid off today.”
Backup linebacker Eric Martin recovered Tandon Doss’ muffed punt at the Ravens’ 11 with 5:50 left in the third quarter. Two plays later, tight end Gary Barnidge ran uncovered off the line of scrimmage and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Campbell, giving the Browns a 21-10 lead with 5:11 left in the third quarter.
The Ravens, though, made it interesting in the final quarter.
Five plays after Doss returned a punt 36 yards to set the Ravens up at the Browns’ 32, Flacco connected with undrafted rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown for a 7-yard touchdown in the front of the end zone, beating the coverage of cornerback Buster Skrine. Brown then beat Haden’s coverage and caught another pass from Flacco for a two-point conversion, cutting the Browns’ lead to 21-18 with 12:09 left in the fourth quarter.
However, the Browns avoided falling into the “here we go again mentality.”
“Not even a bit,” Haden said. “There was no chance. There was nobody on the team that would let you think that.”
The Browns responded with Campbell’s 46-yard pass to wide receiver Greg Little, who left the game with an injured shoulder, later returned and finished with a career-high seven catches for 122 yards. Little’s longest gain set the Browns up at the Ravens’ 34, where the drive stalled.
After the Browns punted, the Ravens drove to their 47 and faced third-and-3 when outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard sacked Flacco for a 1-yard loss. The Browns then took control at their 34 with 6:44 left and Campbell and Co. marched to victory.
The Browns made a statement that they can no longer be pushed around in the AFC North. Chudzinski said last week that the Browns had been the little brother of the division for a long time, and that needed to end.
“I really don’t feel like we’re the little brothers,” Haden said. “It’s just different now. Our defense is different. Our offense is different. The players are different. The coaches are different. It always changes, but this time, it’s changing for the better.
“We know how good our team can be. This is our first game I really feel like — and a lot of players have said it — we played a whole four quarters. That’s just what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to just keep grinding, keep fighting, keep pushing.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.