By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BALTIMORE: The Browns had chances to spoil the home opener of the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, but their offense repeatedly whiffed, and starting quarterback Brandon Weeden left M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday evening with his right hand in a black brace.
In the wake of their 14-6 divisional loss to the Ravens, the Browns have a record of 0-2 for the fifth time in the past six seasons, and Weeden has a sprained right thumb that might force him to sit out Sunday’s road game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Weeden suffered the injury when he smacked his throwing hand against a helmet — it appeared to be left guard John Greco’s — while delivering a pass over the middle that wide receiver Greg Little dropped with 7:53 left in the fourth quarter. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said X-rays on Weeden’s thumb were negative.
“It was tough to put pressure on the ball,” Weeden said. “It hurts. Doesn’t feel too good.”
Jason Campbell replaced Weeden with 3:34 left and completed 1-of-4 passes for 6 yards, the result of an under-handed toss to tight end Jordan Cameron on fourth-and-10 at the Browns’ 22-yard line that clinched their loss with 3:01 remaining. It was one of two fourth downs Chudzinski decided to gamble on, and he lost both times.
“We were just in a position from a clock standpoint,” Chudzinski said of his decision on fourth-and-10. “We needed the time, so at that point we needed to go for it.”
Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, said he didn’t know whether he would undergo an MRI. He also said it’s too early to know whether he’ll be able to face the Vikings (0-2).
“We’ll find out more [today],” said Weeden, who completed 21-of-33 passes for 227 yards, posted a passer rating of 83.8 and absorbed 12 quarterback hits, including five sacks. “[It] depends on how it responds and if I heal quick enough.”
The Browns squandered a 6-0 halftime lead built by Billy Cundiff’s field goals of 21 and 51 yards. His counterpart, Justin Tucker, missed field-goal attempts of 50 and 44 yards wide right in the first half, helping the Browns to shut out the Ravens (1-1) through two quarters and threaten to upset them after their 2012 world championship banner was unveiled before kickoff.
The offense guided by Weeden, though, continued to struggle, and the Browns suffered their 11th consecutive loss to the defending AFC North champion Ravens. Weeden’s 53-yard pass to Cameron during the offense’s first play accounted for nearly a fifth of its total yardage (259).
The big gain set up first-and-goal at the Ravens’ 7, but the Browns settled for Cundiff’s first field goal after Weeden threw the ball away on third down because, he said, wide receiver Davone Bess was covered in the end zone. The Browns converted only 4-of-15 third downs (27 percent) after converting only 1-of-14 last week in a season-opening, 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins. They have scored only one touchdown through the first two games of the season.
“If they put a bull’s-eye on me every week, other people have got to step up and make plays,” said running back Trent Richardson, who had 18 carries for 58 yards (3.2 average) along with five catches for 21 yards. “As a team, as a unit, we’ve just got to do that, and we’ve got to execute.”
After the Ravens went ahead 7-6 via Bernard Pierce’s 5-yard touchdown run that capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with 5:13 left in the third quarter, the Browns wasted a golden opportunity to strike back. Fullback Chris Ogbonnaya was wide open as he ran a wheel route along the Browns’ sideline. Weeden saw him, but the pass sailed a little too far for Ogbonnaya to haul it in near the Ravens’ 38-yard line.
“We sensed that that’s a big play for us,” Richardson said. “The ball was dropped, the pass, whatever it was; there’s plays like that you just can’t get back.”
Only one defender was in position to potentially stop Ogbonnaya from scoring had he caught the pass.
“It looked like the pass went right off his fingertips,” Chudzinski said. “It looked like it might have been a touchdown.”
Weeden and Ogbonnaya shared the blame.
“Looking back, I probably would give it a little more air, give him a chance to run through it,” Weeden said. “I tried to get it on him as quick as possible so he could run with it. Just missed. There’s no excuses for it.”
“We need to complete it,” Ogbonnaya said. “I need to get it by any means necessary.”
The Browns came up short by a hair again after linebacker Craig Robertson forced running back Ray Rice to fumble, and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson recovered the ball at the Ravens’ 42 for Baltimore’s lone turnover of the game.
The Browns held Rice to 57 yards on 19 carries (3.0 average).
On fourth-and-4 at the Ravens’ 39, Chudzinski elected to go for it because he said he felt good about the way the defense was playing and the Browns were out of field-goal range.
Weeden connected with Cameron, who stretched as linebacker Courtney Upshaw tackled him. When the officials measured, it was such a close call that they used a piece of paper to try to gauge whether the nose of the ball aligned with the marker. They ruled that Cameron was just shy of the first down, and the spot of the ball was upheld after Chudzinski challenged it to force a replay review.
“I think it’s a gutsy call [to go for it on fourth down], but I think it’s a good one,” Cameron said. “We needed it, and I need to get the first down. I thought I had it. I reached the ball over. It’s just the way the game goes. I talked to the ref after the play. He said it was closest spot he’s ever seen.”
The Ravens, who converted 8-of-16 third downs, later extended their lead to 14-6 when quarterback Joe Flacco, whose second son was born about an hour before kickoff, picked on cornerbacks Chris Owens and Buster Skrine to orchestrate an eight-play, 42-yard scoring drive. Wide receiver Marlon Brown beat Owens and caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with 8:57 remaining.
It wasn’t long before Weeden was hurt and Campbell was thrust into action. He took snaps with the starters for the first time, and he might receive plenty more in Minnesota.
“I’ll prepare this week as if I’m starting,” Campbell said. “And a week of preparation, it definitely helps a lot.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.