By Nate Ulrich
and Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports writers
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.: If the Browns thought quarterback Jason Campbell would provide mental toughness when they signed him to a two-year, $3.75 million contract in March, they have legitimate reasons to feel short-changed.
After a 24-13 loss Sunday to the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, Campbell conceded that he pressed too much in the second half after the Browns blew a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter and the score was tied at halftime. Those comments came on the heels of Campbell revealing Wednesday that an emotionally draining loss to the New England Patriots on Dec. 8 affected his performance in a defeat Dec. 15 against the Chicago Bears.
“I’m disappointed in the way that [I’ve been] letting things kind of get to [me] over the last couple of weeks,” said Campbell, who completed 18-of-40 passes (45 percent) for 178 yards with two interceptions, posting a passer rating of 37.3 and absorbing three sacks. “We feel like, as a team, we’re good and we’re building and we’re right there. Then it just kind of deflates you a little bit when you don’t get the win.”
Campbell, 31, was out of sync from the start against the Jets. During the opening possession, he threw a short pass off target and incomplete, even though slot receiver Josh Cooper was wide open for an easy first down. In the second quarter, he threw too high and incomplete on a screen pass to tight end MarQueis Gray, who was also wide open.
During the Browns’ first possession of the third quarter, rookie cornerback Dee Milliner cut in front of wide receiver Greg Little, intercepted a pass from Campbell and returned 19 yards to the Jets’ 39-yard line. With 1:46 left in the fourth quarter, Campbell missed the mark again on a throw to Gray, and free safety Ed Reed intercepted the pass to seal the Jets’ victory.
“It felt awful,” said Campbell, who’s in his ninth NFL season. “Early in the game, we had some opportunities to put points on the board. When you don’t do that, it keeps the other team around. Then once they started to get their breaks and get their confidence going, you’re kind of more disappointed, instead of just [continuing to play] the game, and I think you start to press.”
Campbell and the offense made four trips into the red zone, including three in the first half, and they ran 20 plays there. Still, they produced just one touchdown – running back Edwin Baker’s 5-yard rush with 6:47 left in the second quarter. Little dropped a pass in the end zone in the first quarter, and wide receiver Josh Gordon did the same in the second quarter.
“I think I just started pressing after the first half when it was 10-0 and then it was 10-10,” Campbell said. “We were looking at it like it should have been 21-0. I think I felt like we should’ve been scoring more points. Our opportunities were there. I missed a couple of throws, and we had a couple of drops. We just were doing things that we normally don’t do. I think we just started to unravel a bit. It starts with me as the leader, first and foremost. I just have to rally the guys around me, make sure I’m doing my job and make sure we’re in a good position to score points.”
Instead, Campbell came away lamenting his ability to mentally overcome obstacles for the second time in five days.
Little and Gordon had disappointing days, both dropping at least one pass in the end zone.
Coming in leading the league in receiving yards, Gordon was targeted 16 times and caught six passes for 97 yards. He dropped three balls, if the one he juggled while falling out of bounds on fourth-and-goal from the Jets’ 1-yard line in the second quarter is counted. That followed his drop on the previous play.
Little was targeted four times and caught one pass for 4 yards. His potential touchdown came on the Browns’ second series, when he had Campbell’s pass in his hands in the back of the end zone on second-and-goal from the Jets’ 7.
Little has caught 40 passes for 456 yards and two touchdowns this season, not the type of production expected from the 2011 second-round pick after his hard work in the offseason. But Little couldn’t put his finger on what has gone wrong.
“I can’t, I really can’t,” he said. “When you have opportunities to make a play, you have to make them. I didn’t have the season I wanted to have. I’ve just got to do a lot better.”
Little could be released by the Browns in the offseason. Asked if he wanted to be back in 2014, Little said, “I sit and think about this a lot. A lot of guys go other places and have success, but I want to be here and part of the team that turns it around and takes this community, this city and the guys in this locker room to the playoffs.
“I’d love to be part of the team and to be a part of something special here.”
As for Gordon, he was “pretty sure” he had the fourth-down ball he bobbled.
“From [the official’s] angle he must have thought I didn’t catch it, so that’s a controversial call,” Gordon said. “Still, I should have made [the catch] outright so he could have seen it.”
Of the drops, Gordon said, “That’s unlike me. It was just one of those off games, I guess. But hopefully I can focus in a little better and eliminate some of those.”
Much of the day Gordon was covered by cornerback Dee Milliner, the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Alabama. Some expected the Browns to select Milliner, but they took linebacker Barkevious Mingo at No. 6. Milliner finished with nine tackles (eight solos), five passes defensed and an interception.
“He’s a great young player. He’s going to be good for a long time in this league,” Gordon said.
Milliner said he knew Gordon would run a lot of digs and vertical routes.
“Depending on where he was lining up, if he was inside in the slot they were going to try to isolate him,” Milliner said. “Coach called coverages to prevent the big plays he usually gets.”
Key defender hurting
Browns cornerback Joe Haden started despite a hip pointer suffered last week against the Bears, but left early in the fourth quarter after aggravating it. He practiced only on Friday last week, on a limited basis, and was listed as questionable.
As he left the stadium, Haden had his midsection wrapped, with what looked like an ice pack on the left side, and said he was sore.
“The adrenalin and everything, it wore off,” Haden said.
Asked if he aggravated the injury, Haden said, “Yeah, a little bit. It started getting back to me a little bit, it was hurting. It was two minutes left and it was trying to pretty much not get hurt any more.”
Revenge part one
Jets wide receiver David Nelson, cut by the Browns on Aug. 31, recorded the first two-touchdown game of his career. Nelson pulled in a 6-yard scoring pass with 1:18 left in the second quarter and a 5-yard touchdown with 14:14 remaining as he caught four passes for 33 yards.
Nelson said he didn’t build up playing the team that released him because of how he fared the last time the situation arose, Nov. 17 at Buffalo. That day he was targeted three times and caught one pass for 12 yards.
“I made a big deal about it and I played a little outside of myself,” Nelson said of the Bills game. “I tried to play too hard and make too many things happen. So this week I tried to play it off like it was nothing.”
Signed by the Jets on Oct. 2, Nelson had no touchdowns before Sunday. He said the Jets had been practicing his two scoring plays, both timing routes, for six weeks.
A Florida product, Nelson said he was helped by the fact that he practiced against Haden for three years with the Gators and last summer with the Browns and faced him once when he was with the Bills. Nelson beat Jordan Poyer and Buster Skrine for his TDs.
“I know their defensive style and I think that gave me a little bit of an advantage,” Nelson said.
Revenge the sequel
Jets tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., who spent five seasons with the Browns after they drafted him sixth overall in 2004, finished with three catches for 35 yards. Last week, he told ESPNNewYork.com none of the Browns’ defenders could cover him.
Browns strong safety T.J. Ward didn’t put much stock in the bulletin-board material.
“He’s not a malicious player,” Ward said. “He’s a good dude. He had a couple of catches today, and it wasn’t like it was a battle or we were going to selfishly make that something between him and our defense. It was an offensive-defensive game, and their offense beat us today. That’s all it was.”
Umpire Butch Hannah left the game for good with 57 seconds left in the first half and was diagnosed with a concussion, an NFL spokesman said.
After an 8-yard run by Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s shoulder pad appeared to hit Hannah as he spotted the ball. He stumbled into Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson before falling.
Browns defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi suffered a right knee injury while standing on the sideline when outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo pushed quarterback Geno Smith out of bounds in the first quarter. Cioffi left the stadium on crutches, and assistant defensive backs coach Bobby Babich filled his role.
Browns rookie Edwin Baker made the first start of his career at running back, getting the nod over Willis McGahee. Signed off the Houston Texans’ practice squad on Dec. 10, Baker totaled 64 yards on 17 carries and caught two passes for 12 yards.
Baker scored his second rushing touchdown of the season, a 5-yarder, with 6:47 left in the second quarter. Playing in his second Cleveland game, he has two of the Browns’ four rushing touchdowns. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Baker joined Leroy Hoard (1990) and Ron Johnson (1969) as the only players in Browns history to score a rushing touchdown in each of their first two NFL games.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said nose tackle Phil Taylor suffered a concussion in the third quarter. Taylor shook his head like he was woozy earlier in the series after he and defensive end John Hughes made a tackle on running back Bilal Powell’s 2-yard run. Chudzinski said Hughes later suffered a sprained knee. … Jason Pinkston started at left guard in place of John Greco (sprained medial collateral ligament in right knee) and Gary Barnidge took over at tight end for Jordan Cameron (concussion). Rookie Garrett Gilkey rotated with Pinkston. Also inactive were quarterback Alex Tanney, offensive tackles Martin Wallace and Reid Fragel and tight end Andre Smith (strained calf). … Browns special adviser Jim Brown attended the game. … Former Browns quarterback Vinny Testaverde was a guest of the Jets and led the team into the stadium on a parking lot walk. … Free safety Tashaun Gipson and Gordon served as game captains.
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.