By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The Browns just suffered their sixth loss in the past seven games, and with Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden recovering from concussions, coach Rob Chudzinski doesn’t even know who will serve as the team’s starting quarterback Sunday when it visits the New England Patriots.
“These next 24-48 hours will be key [in determining who’ll play quarterback],” Chudzinski said Monday during a news conference. “We have a number of plans, contingency plans, and we’ll see as I get more information how that plays out. But all of the possibilities are open right now.”
So Campbell or Weeden could start if either one of them is cleared by the time practice resumes Wednesday. Alex Tanney could start, even though the Browns just signed him off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad Nov. 26 and he has never played in an NFL regular-season game. And a veteran free-agent quarterback like Caleb Hanie, who worked out for the Browns last week before they chose Tanney, could come off the street and start.
Regardless, the Browns (4-8) are living a nightmare. The playoff hopes they had less than three weeks ago have vanished like their depth at quarterback, and they hit rock bottom Sunday with a 32-28 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9) at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“Losing is not acceptable,” Chudzinski 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.
“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.”
Chudzinski has no other choice but to take his best shot at inspiring players and fans, but the reality is the Browns will begin a death march when they travel to face the Patriots (9-3). Their final three games of the season will be at home against the Chicago Bears (6-6) and on the road against the New York Jets (5-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7).
The uncertainty they continue to face at quarterback only further decreases the chances of Chudzinski’s first season as a head coach ending with a record better than 4-12.
If anyone other than Weeden starts, it’ll be the fifth time the Browns have switched starting quarterbacks this season. If anyone other than Campbell or Weeden starts, he’ll be the fourth quarterback to start this season. After Weeden suffered a sprained thumb in September, quarterback Brian Hoyer led the Browns to consecutive wins before suffering a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Oct. 3.
“I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a curse,” cornerback Joe Haden said. … “It’s never, ‘Here we go again.’ It’s never that because no matter what happens, you’ve got to play, you’ve got to be out there, you’ve got to be up and ready for all the games no matter when you’re going out there. You can’t go into the fight with no bullets.
“We can’t be [saying], ‘I wish this would’ve happened.’ It’s not what we’ve wanted at all, so we’ve got four games left. We could turn it around. We could get smacked up. We’ve got to go out there. We determine how the end of the season goes.”
Campbell, who’s 1-3 as a starter this season, suffered a concussion Nov. 24 in the third quarter of a 27-11 loss to the Steelers and hasn’t practiced since. Chudzinski said Campbell has been medically cleared to exercise but not to practice yet.
“Jason’s getting better,” Chudzinski said. “He’s been cleared for activity, not practice, but for activity, and we’ll see how he progresses in the next couple of days.”
Weeden started in Campbell’s place against the Jaguars and was diagnosed with a concussion after he reported symptoms Sunday evening after the loss. Chudzinski said he didn’t know at which point the injury occurred during the game or what affect it might have had on Weeden’s performance. The team sent him home Monday after he reported to its headquarters.
Weeden fell to 0-5 as a starter this season. He completed 24-of-40 passes for a career-high 370 yards and two touchdowns, posting a passer rating of 94.8 rating, but his two interceptions and lost fumble in the final three minutes of the second quarter allowed the Jaguars to score 13 points and capture a 20-14 halftime lead.
Chudzinski demoted Weeden in favor of Campbell after back-to-back poor performances in October. But Chudzinski declined to reveal whether he would bench Weeden, if healthy, because of his rash of turnovers against the Jaguars.
“They weren’t good decisions,” Chudzinski said of Weeden’s interceptions. “The coverage was tight and those are the things that I know Brandon would want back. I thought that 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.”
Despite Weeden’s struggles before halftime, Chudzinski said he didn’t want to summon Tanney from the bench Sunday because he would have been very limited in what he could have done with only three practices under his belt. However, Chudzinski didn’t rule out starting him Sunday.
“We have a few days to let it sort it out, and we’ll have to know something by the time that we get into practice time [Wednesday],” Chudzinski said. “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.”
In the end, Weeden and the offense — well, mostly wide receiver Josh Gordon — put the team in position to beat the Jaguars. On first-and-10 at the 5-yard line, Gordon caught a pass from Weeden at the 23 and left the Jaguars in his dust en route to a 95-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 28-25 lead with 3:55 remaining.
But the defense failed to deliver in crunch time as the Jaguars responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive capped by quarterback Chad Henne’s 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cecil Shorts with 40 seconds left. Haden gave up the decisive touchdown when Shorts, a Cleveland native and University of Mount Union product, beat him with a double move. In his postgame interview, Haden went on an emotional, profanity-laced rant about his hatred of losing, comments he stood by Monday.
“The frustration is natural,” Chudzinski said. “I have it, I feel it as well, so it’s natural. 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.”
Of course, it would be easier to step forward if the Browns actually knew the identity of their starting quarterback.
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.