CLEVELAND: It didn’t take wide receiver Davone Bess very long to bounce back.
Bess dropped three passes last week and muffed a punt that the Kansas City Chiefs recovered in the fourth quarter. The dropped punt and the final dropped pass, which came on a fourth-down play as quarterback Jason Campbell scrambled out of the pocket, all but ended the Browns’ chances at a victory.
It brought Bess’ drop total to nine according to ProFootballFocus.com, which led the league entering Sunday. According to STATS LLC, Bess had seven drops. Either way, he was in the top-5 of a category no receiver wants to be associated with, in particular a veteran such as himself.
Bess rebounded in a big way for the Browns on Sunday, catching a career-high two touchdown passes and hauling in a key pass on fourth-and-1 at the 43-yard line that kept the chains moving and allowed the Browns to run the clock down in the fourth quarter in their 24-18 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
He only had three receptions, but all three were crucial.
“You have got to take it one play at a time,” Bess said of rebounding from a bad game. “One snap at a time. That’s the only way you can get back. You can’t dive in and fix it all on one play.”
Bess’ first touchdown was from 1 yard out. Campbell threw off his back foot but found Bess, who fought off two defenders for the ball. Later, Campbell hit Bess on a short pass from the 20-yard line. Bess advanced a few yards and then juked Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb to the ground to put the Browns ahead 14-3.
Perhaps the biggest symbol of Bess’ turnaround came on his fourth-down reception, which was nearly identical to the fourth-down pass against the Chiefs he couldn’t catch.
“I dropped the one last week, and that definitely went through my head,” Bess said. “They was blitzing, bringing pressure. I turned around on my route, saw Jason scrambling and it looked exactly how it was last week. He was rolling, threw it at me and I just came over and fell.”
Campbell trusted Bess enough to go to him this week.
“It was a huge play, probably the biggest play of the game,” Campbell said of the conversion. “I was so happy for [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.”
Bess also assured Campbell earlier in the week he’d be there when it mattered most.
“He came to me Monday and said, ‘J, I’ll be there for you this week. He told me that Monday and I remembered. I told him I believe in him. I said, ‘You didn’t get this far playing in the league by going in the tank after something like that. I thought he came out here and put [it] in his mind to show people what type of player he is.”
Bess’ performance was enough to garner some praise from the boss, as owner Jimmy Haslam walked over to Bess in the locker room after the game to give him some congratulations.
“Great job, man,” Haslam said. “Way to go. Great playing.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski never lost faith in Bess, either.
“Because I trust him and because I know the type of person he is that he’s going to bounce back from the week before,” Chudzinski said when asked why he went to Bess in those situations. “You get to know people and you get to trust people and feel about them in this way, and Davone Bess is one of those people.”
Nice with Rice
Sunday was the first matchup between nose tackle Phil Taylor and Ravens running back Ray Rice since an alleged spitting incident from Week 2. It hasn’t been directly said that Rice spit in Taylor’s face, but several Browns played hinted at such. Taylor slapped Rice after that incident and drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
Taylor had a big hit on Rice in the second quarter for a 3-yard loss. Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson loved seeing Taylor deliver the big blow.
“I was so happy he made that play because of all the talk about the incident that happened last game,” Jackson said. “It’s a friendly battle. Ray Rice and I, we go back to college. We’re good friends. What happened, happened. But there was no ill feelings between the two guys. I’m just happy it was clean and Phil was able to make that play.”
After the game, it was all cordial between the Taylor and Rice.
“After the game, he came up to me, shook my hand,” Taylor said. “We’re good.”
The Browns shut Rice down for much of the day. He ended up with 17 yards on 11 carries for an average of 1.5 yards per carry. It’s the lowest average of his career in a game with at least 10 carries, according to STATS, LLC.
Late in the second quarter Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw deep to wide receiver Jacoby Jones but had the ball hang up in the air. It was tipped by free safety Tashaun Gipson and intercepted by Haden. It was the first interception for the Browns since Gipson intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass on Oct. 13 against the Detroit Lions.
Gipson couldn’t get both hands around this one but felt better that Haden did.
“Unfortunately my hands are on brick mode right now,” Gipson said. “Just a huge play for Joe, Joe being aware out there and just being able to come up with the pick.
“Being a ballhawk back there you want to label yourself, you definitely want to come down with those balls. But the motto’s ‘All balls are our balls.’ Joe came down with it, definitely a huge turning point.”
Haden knew he had a chance for an interception as soon as it left Flacco’s hand.
“I got a triple move with Torrey Smith. So, I was just running back there with him,” he said. “When I saw he [Flacco] threw the ball, I knew it was high. I didn’t know how far it was going to go, so I saw Gibson right under it. I was just waiting behind, waiting for Gibson to get the pick and as soon as it got tipped I was like, ‘oh, thank you, my chance is now’. So I just went and tried to dive and pick it off.”
Campbell wasn’t upset by the hit from Ravens Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata in which he suffered a rib injury while scrambling that kept him out for four plays in the second quarter.
Ngata was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
“I talked to him after the game. Ngata told me he wasn’t trying to do anything on purpose,” Campbell said. “He actually was trying to jump over his guy to keep the guy from running into his leg. He tried to jump over him and accidentally fell on top of me. He’s not a dirty player. He’s a really good stand-up football player and came to me after the game and apologized.”
Campbell broke his collarbone in a 2011 game with the Browns when he was tackled by former Browns linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong. Ngata’s hit reminded him of that injury.
“Oh yeah, I felt that one and I’m not going to tell you what’s going through my mind,” Campbell said. “That was big. It was the same situation as when I broke my collarbone against Cleveland two years ago. I got landed on and it was the same situation. I just thank God for protecting me and not letting it be that dramatic.”
Ravens had coach John Harbaugh wasn’t sold that Ngata’s hit warranted a penalty.
“Haloti is trying to make a tackle. Haloti is in the air while Jason Campbell is in the air. Jason’s running and because he (Ngata) ends up landing on him it’s hard for me to understand why that’s called,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a judgment call. The referee is going to make a judgment call on that.”
Big day for Little
Wide receiver Greg Little had seven catches, a career high, for 122 yards.
He also gave 30 of those yards back throughout the game, though. In the second quarter, after a scuffle after a play, Little ended up with the helmet of Ravens safety James Ihedigbo and hurled it about 15 yards, drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Later in the game Little caught a pass for 15 yards on a crossing route and met Ihedigbo near the sideline. Little shoved him and then added a “come here” motion with his hand, garnering a second unsportsmanlike penalty for taunting.
Bess liked to see the effort Little put forth.
“He played his heart out,” Bess said. “You can see it, every play, just finishing strong to the ball. He played unbelievable.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Little had a 46-yard reception but came down hard on his shoulder along the sideline and sat out several plays. He later returned.
Chudzinski saw great value in Little producing while wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron are covered.
“It’s huge,” Chudzinski said. “That’s the kind of team you want to have is where if it’s a Josh or if it’s Jordan, if people are focusing on them and taking them away, that you have other options and those guys are producing when they have their opportunities. Greg made some great catches today, some big plays for us. His shoulder was what the issue was, and we’ll get it checked out.”
Campbell reached out to Little earlier in the week with some words of encouragement.
“I told Greg Wednesday, ‘You never know when it’s your day.’ With Josh and Jordan getting so much attention, it’s going to create an opportunity for you to make plays and today was his day. He stepped up and made two huge catches and the run after the catch I thought was the big thing for him.”
Raven comes home
Ravens rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a two-time All-Suburban League and All-Medina County selection at Cloverleaf High School, enjoyed his first NFL game in his home state.
“I am past being mesmerized by these games any more,” Juszczyk said. “I have been playing long enough. Being a kid who grew up near Cleveland and having been to Browns games, I have been able to see it from the stands to actually being on the field. It’s pretty cool. It is always cool to be playing in front of family and friends.”
Drafted in the fourth round out of Harvard, Juszczyk is part of every special teams unit and said he loves his role. At Cloverleaf, he played four offensive positions along with linebacker.
“I will give everything I have out there,” he said. “At Cloverleaf I played a little defense. Special teams are an opportunity to make some plays offensively or defensively.”
Browns players lauded Chudzinski for going for it twice on fourth down. One resulted in the first touchdown, the other kept alive a game-clinching field goal drive.
“We need that,” Taylor said. “We can’t be afraid. We cannot be afraid to go for it. Championship teams go for it a lot on fourth down if need be. I don’t have any problems with his decision with that.”
Left tackle Joe Thomas said there would have been plenty of second-guessing if the gambles hadn’t worked in the Browns’ favor.
“They were a couple gusty calls. I know there would’ve been a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks if we didn’t make that one,” Thomas said of the final possession. “Now everyone looks like a genius. It was a huge drive, we had all sorts of guys stepping up and making plays.”
Thomas likes that Chudzinski is sticking with what he told the team when he was hired on Jan. 10.
The Browns have converted 10 of 19 attempts on fourth down.
“I expect to go for it on fourth and 1. That’s his mentality,” Thomas said. “As soon as he got here he told us he was going to go for it a lot on fourth down, he was going to call fake punts and fake field goals, and he hasn’t disappointed. It’s built into his philosophy. He’s got confidence in us and he thinks it’s a good risk to take.
“I just think he thinks in his head the odds are in our favor.”
Campbell knew the Browns weren’t punting when they called timeout with 3:12 remaining.
“We knew we were going to go for it. We practice on that probably more than anyone in the league, going for it on fourth down if it’s close,” Campbell said. “Like coach said, ‘Even in the first half, if there’s time on the clock we’re going for it.’ We knew in that situation he wanted to put it on our shoulders to win the game. If you give the ball back, who knows what’s going to happen. He put it on the offense for us to finish the game right there and I thought our offense did an outstanding job.”
Running back Chris Ogbonnaya called Chudzinski “very confident.”
“He’s a passionate individual, as all our coaches are,” Ogbonnaya said. “We take a lot of pride in that to execute and we were able to do it.”
The Browns have faced the defending Super Bowl champions five times in the past six seasons and are 4-1 against them. Also succumbing were the New York Giants (2008), Pittsburgh Steelers (2009), New Orleans Saints (2010). … Campbell’s 262 passing yards gave him 15,243 for his career. … Campbell joined Derek Anderson in 2007 as the only Browns quarterbacks since 1999 to post back-to-back ratings over 100. … Campbell has 90 consecutive attempts without an interception. … Little, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron have posted 100-yard receiving games this season, the first time since 2005 that three or more players have gone reached that milestone. … The Browns’ five sacks gave them 11 in the past two games (their highest two-game total since 2001) and 31 for the season. … Tight end Gary Barnidge caught his first TD as a Brown, a 4-yarder. … Billy Cundiff extended his consecutive field goal streak to nine with his 22-yarder. … Receiver Armanti Edwards, signed on Tuesday, caught one pass for 10 yards and returned two punts for 14 yards. … The Browns’ defense allowed a season-low 4.1 yards per play.
Center Patrick Lewis, offensive tackle Martin Wallace, guard Garrett Gilkey, nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, offensive tackle Reid Fragel, tight end Keavon Milton and outside linebacker Paul Hazel were inactive for the Browns. Backup outside linebacker Quentin Groves was active for the first time since Oct. 20. He sat out last week against the Chiefs after aggravating a high-ankle sprain that forced him to miss three games earlier this season. Groves left the game on Sunday in the second half with an ankle injury. Chudzinski said after the game it was the same ankle that’s been bothering him. Defensive end Billy Winn was active for the first time since Sept. 22. Winn even made it into the game for one snap as a fullback on a second-and-two play in the fourth quarter. Willis McGahee only gained one yard on the play, though.
MarQueis Gray left the game with a hamstring injury. Linebacker Eric Martin, who recovered a muffed punt in the third quarter, exited the game with a knee injury. Linebacker Darius Eubanks was evaluated for a head injury.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.