By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: The Pittsburgh Steelers rolled into Browns Town and delivered a double dose of misery just in time for the holiday season.
Not only did the Browns have their playoff hopes essentially dashed in a 27-11 loss to their archrivals during a windy, bitter-cold Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium, but also quarterback Jason Campbell was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the third quarter as he committed one of the team’s four turnovers. Coming off a 41-20 loss to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns (4-7) have lost five of their past six games, including the past two to division foes.
“You can’t come in laying eggs two games in a row and then expect to be a playoff team or anything like that,” strong safety T.J. Ward said. … “Two blowouts. So no, we’re not ready [for big games].
“I’m tired of losing in this manner. It’s a little bit different if you go to the wire and you’re fighting the whole game and you have an opportunity to win the game at the end. But we’re out of the game in the fourth quarter.”
Campbell could be out next weekend against the Jacksonville Jaguars, so the Browns will likely sign a quarterback to team with Brandon Weeden, who was benched a month ago after falling to 0-4 as a starter this season and 5-14 in his career. Coach Rob Chudzinski said the team will prepare Weeden to start Sunday. It would mark their fourth quarterback switch of the season.
“I’ve never been in a situation like it, but that’s the National Football League,” said Weeden, who completed 13-of-30 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown with an interception, posting a passer rating of 64.4. “Quarterbacks are getting hit, and it’s just a physical game. You have to be ready at all times because you never know what’s going to happen. It’s a funky deal.”
No matter who plays quarterback, the Browns will be dismissed from the postseason discussion, barring a miraculous run of four or five wins down the stretch. The Browns have meetings left with the Jaguars (2-9), New England Patriots (8-3), Chicago Bears (6-5), New York Jets (5-6) and Steelers (5-6), who are still alive in the chase for the AFC’s second and final wild-card berth.
“We are playing no matter what is at stake,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We are still playing. What you put on tape, that’s your resume, and everybody has to ball out. Who knows who is going to be here?”
With 7:46 left in the third quarter, the Steelers forced Campbell’s exit and ensured they would improve to 25-5 against the Browns since 1999, including the playoffs. On third-and-7 at the Steelers’ 39-yard line, William Gay zoomed toward Campbell unblocked on a cornerback blitz and whacked him across the face mask with his left hand, causing Campbell to fumble and smack the back of his helmet on the ground.
Safety Will Allen returned the fumble 49 yards to the Browns’ 4. During the next play, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who improved to 16-1 as a starter against the Browns, connected with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a slant route for a 4-yard touchdown as the Steelers captured a 20-3 lead with 7:43 left in the third quarter..
Campbell was then carted from the sideline and to the locker room area. He never returned.
Chudzinski thought Gay should have been penalized for striking Campbell in the helmet and discussed the hit with the officials. They told Chudzinski that Campbell was hit in the shoulder, though replays from CBS’s telecast show evidence to the contrary.
Campbell completed 14-of-22 passes for 124 yards and finished with a passer rating of 78.6. He also aggravated the bruised ribs he suffered Nov. 3 in a win over the Baltimore Ravens and missed one play in the second quarter.
Weeden was greeted by boos when he entered the game for his lone snap of the first half, and on third-and-6 at the Browns’ 27, tight end Jordan Cameron dropped his pass over the middle. The Browns punted, and two plays later, wide receiver Antonio Brown beat Haden’s coverage and caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger with 2:33 left in the second quarter.
During the next series, Campbell completed passes of 16 and 10 yards before strong safety Troy Polamalu ripped the ball away from Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya at the end of an 8-yard run and recovered the fumble at the Steelers’ 46 with 1:43 left in the first half. The Steelers, who often used a no-huddle offense, then orchestrated an eight-play, 40-yard drive that Shaun Suisham capped with a 32-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the second quarter, giving them a 13-3 halftime lead.
The Browns have committed eight turnovers in the past two games. That has prompted some of the defensive players to point fingers, even though the defense hasn’t tallied a sack in either of the past two games.
“Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers,” Ward said. … “We had four. They had zero. That’s why we’re losing — it says it right there. You can’t win ballgames turning the ball over.
“It is frustrating [for the defense], I’m not going to lie, but it’s out of our power. We have to trust that [the players on offense are] doing everything in their power to win ballgames like we are, and I trust that and I know that. It’s just things aren’t going the way any of us want them to go right now.”
The turnover bug and Gay struck again when he intercepted a pass from Weeden and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown, giving the Steelers a 27-3 lead with 4:27 remaining.
“That was it,” Weeden said. “That was the nail.”
In garbage time, Weeden threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Josh Gordon, whose franchise-record tying 14 catches for a franchise-record 237 receiving yards were wasted in defeat.
Said Gordon: “Honestly, I don’t really see anything positive.”
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.