By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: After quarterback Jason Campbell had one of the worst performances of his nine-year NFL career in the most important game for the Browns since 2007, his ego might have been even more bruised than his ribs.
“I was hard on myself Sunday night and Monday,” Campbell said Wednesday before practice while reflecting on the Browns’ 41-20 loss on the road to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. “I really was hurt by the outcome of the game because it was a game I felt like we had a chance to win and put ourselves in a really good position.”
But Campbell eventually found the silver lining: The Browns (4-6) will still have something to play for when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6) on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The 5-5 Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are leading the pack for the AFC’s second and final wild-card berth with seven four-win teams, including the Browns and Steelers, on their heels.
“You’ve got to move on,” Campbell said. “You can look at it two ways. You can bounce back this Sunday and come out and play great, or you can continue to hang your hat on that [loss] and come out and be flat. With us being in the race right now at 4-6 with a lot of other teams, we need to put this one quickly behind us.
“This is a new week, a new opportunity. If you can get on a streak here, you can look back at that game [against the Bengals] and say it made us a stronger and better team.”
Coach Rob Chudzinski and his players believe Campbell will rebound after completing 27-of-56 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions, all of which were deflected, and posting a passer rating of 44.3 against the Bengals, who improved to 7-4 and positioned themselves to run away with the division crown by thrashing the Browns.
“You can’t do anything about the tipped interceptions, but you can do something about playing better,” said Campbell, who had passer ratings of more than 100 and went 1-1 in his first two starts with the Browns. “I look forward to bouncing back and playing a better game this week.”
Statistics back up theories about Campbell’s ability to rise from the abyss.
Including Sunday, Campbell has had a passer rating of less than 50 in six games, two of which were against the Steelers. He bounced back each of the first five times by increasing his passer rating in his next performance by an average of 68.1. The slightest improvement was in 2008 when he followed a 49.2 passer rating against the Steelers with a 73.4 rating against the Dallas Cowboys. The largest improvement was in 2010 when he followed a career-low passer rating of 10.7 against the San Francisco 49ers with a career-high passer rating of 127.9 against the Denver Broncos.
“Throughout Jason’s career he’s had some tough times, some times he was down, and he’s always been able to come back from that,” said Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant, who was Campbell’s teammate from 2010-11 when they were with the Oakland Raiders. “We all know we’re not always going to have great games, and so when you do have a bad game, the way you really show your character is to come back the next game and play well. Jason’s a really high-character guy. I think he’ll really get it done this week.”
Campbell won’t use the bruised ribs he suffered Nov. 3 in a 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens as an excuse, but it’s hard to believe they weren’t a factor against the Bengals. He even conceded that it was a challenge for him to mentally block out the discomfort he experienced Sunday.
“It was a challenge last week,” Campbell said. “But it’s a new week now. I try not to put too much focus on that, not at all. I feel great. I feel good. Now I’ll go out and play.”
Campbell didn’t wear any extra padding last weekend to protect his ribs, and he said he won’t Sunday, either.
“That’s not even in my mindset this week,” Campbell said. “That’s in the rearview mirror. I try not to think about it. When you play this game, if you’re on the field, you’re healthy enough to play. That’s how I look at it. If I’m on the field, I’m healthy enough to play.”
Instead of blaming the injury for the offense’s lack of production, Campbell cited a lack of rhythm and sense of urgency. The Browns settled for two field goals in the first quarter after stalling in the red zone. After the game, Campbell took responsibility for the loss because of those disappointing sequences.
“You have games where everything just seems not to be going right for us and that’s just one of those games that happened on Sunday,” he said. “The whole day was weird. Even the [turbulent] flight [back to Cleveland in bad weather] was weird. It was just one of those days that happens.
“Everything went wrong. Last week, we started the game off 13-0 and the wheels kind of fell off after that. Give them some credit. They made some great plays, blocking two punts and tipping balls in the air and getting interceptions. We can’t take anything from them, but we know we’re a way better football team than what we put out.”
And Campbell believes he’s a better quarterback than the version he displayed in Cincinnati.
“You look around the league and you see guys that will play great three or four weeks, and then they’ll have a rough one,” Campbell said. “It’s all about bouncing back the next week. You can’t live in the past. Even in your life, you can’t live in the past. I always say that. You’ve always got to look toward the future. Your past can help you, but if you hang onto it, it can hurt you.”
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.