By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Veteran quarterback Jason Campbell has performed well this season when healthy, and he’s relieved he’ll get a shot to do it again, especially because his status was uncertain for most of this week.
Campbell will return to the starting lineup Sunday, when the Browns (4-8) visit the New England Patriots (9-3), coach Rob Chudzinski announced Friday. An independent neurologist medically cleared Campbell to return to game action for the first time since he suffered a concussion Nov. 24 in a 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers when cornerback William Gay whacked him in the face mask during the third quarter.
“You feel like you’re missing something, you feel like you’re away from it, like you’ve been punished or something, like I’ve been suspended from school basically,” Campbell said. “But I’m just glad to be back out here with these guys and to finish the season out together.
“It was tough sitting down. I think it was important to get back playing. But at the same time, there is a life after football, and I wanted to make sure that part was handled correctly before I got back on the field.”
Campbell, who’s 1-3 as a starter this season and 32-43 in his nine-year career, wasn’t cleared to practice until Thursday. He was limited upon his return, but he fully participated Friday.
“It looked like he hasn’t missed a beat at all from the few weeks that he’s been out,” Chudzinski said. “The type of guy Jason is and the leadership that he brings certainly gives us a boost.”
As for the rib injury Campbell has dealt with since last month, he insisted it has healed. He plans to wear normal padding Sunday.
“I’m healthy now in my rib area, so that’s a huge plus,” he said. “So from that standpoint, it gives me an opportunity to not think about it and just play.”
The news that Campbell will start against the Patriots provided a lift throughout the locker room.
“It’s time to roll. Obviously, it’s a lot better feeling knowing we have some familiarity at the position,” wide receiver Davone Bess said. “But if one of the other guys had to step up, we would just have to go in swinging. But we’re excited about Jason’s return, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Added inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson: “He’s going to help us. He’s played well when he was healthy, and he’s shown he can be a trooper and take a pounding and still come back. So I’m happy for him, and he’s going to give this team a big boost.”
The alternative to starting Campbell would have been to give Caleb Hanie or Alex Tanney the reins of the offense because the Browns ruled out Brandon Weeden, who has yet to practice since he suffered a concussion Sunday in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Browns signed Hanie off the street Tuesday and Tanney off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad Nov. 26. Chudzinski said the coaching staff had yet to decide which one would serve as the No. 2 quarterback against the Patriots, and the announcement wouldn’t be made till Sunday.
“I’m always wanting another opportunity,” Hanie said. “They don’t come along too often, so when you get them, you’ve got to take advantage of them. They may still come along, but up to this point, I was hoping to get in there and get a chance to play, and I’ll just look at it in an optimistic way. I’ll get another chance to prepare.”
After Chudzinski benched Weeden coming off back-to-back poor performances in October, Campbell became the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era, since 1966, to post passer ratings of more than 100 in his first two starts with the Browns. In Campbell’s first start this season, the Browns fell 23-17 on the road to the Kansas City Chiefs but rebounded a week later with a 24-18 win at home over the Baltimore Ravens.
Campbell injured his ribs against the Ravens and then struggled in a 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, finishing with one touchdown pass, three interceptions and a passer rating of 44.3.
“In that game, I was in a lot of pain,” Campbell said. “But I just tried to [push through it].”
Then Campbell completed 14-of-22 passes for 124 yards, posting a passer rating of 78.6, before he was knocked out of the game against the Steelers. Campbell said he suffered the concussion as a result of Gay striking him in the face mask, not from the back of his helmet smacking the ground a split-second later.
“Most concussions now come from the rotation of the head more so than just the hit to the head,” said Campbell, adding it was the second time he had been diagnosed with a concussion in his career, the other during the 2011 preseason.
The officials should have penalized Gay for roughing the passer, which would’ve negated Campbell’s fumble during the play and given the Browns a first down at the Steelers’ 24-yard line while trailing 13-3 with 7:46 left in the third quarter. But they missed the call, and the Steelers scored a touchdown one play after safety Will Allen returned the fumble to the Browns’ 4. The NFL later acknowledged the mistake by fining Gay $15,750 for the hit.
Campbell said the missed call was “a major change in the game,” but he doesn’t believe Gay, who was unblocked on a cornerback blitz, had malicious intent.
“I think when I saw him at the last minute, I kind of ducked down a little bit, and that’s when he caught me across the face,” Campbell said. “But I don’t think it was a dirty hit. I don’t think he was trying to do it.”
Campbell said he experienced headaches, dizziness and sensitivity to light.
“I was quarantined for a while,” Campbell said. “I wasn’t sitting in a dark room or anything. Lights and glare and just the normal things you have to go through.”
Campbell also missed one play in the first half against the Steelers because he aggravated the injury to his ribs, but he wouldn’t say whether they’re broken.
“They just hurt,” he said with a smile.
Now Campbell hopes to put the injuries behind him and generate strong performances in the final four games of the season.
“It’s been a roller-coaster season,” Campbell said. “There’s been some highs and there’s been some lows. You start off good and then a rib injury and you kind of focus on recovering from that and you try to get yourself back into a rhythm in the Pittsburgh game, and then you’re sidelined again with a concussion. So hopefully these next four weeks we can focus, and especially myself just focus, on growing and trying to get better. I’m healthy now. Everything is healthy, and this is probably the best I’ve felt since I got the chance to play.”
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.