By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Distraught after falling to 1-6 as a starter this season, Browns quarterback Jason Campbell was hanging his head Monday until his father, Larry, told him to stop feeling sorry for himself and spread some holiday cheer.
Campbell could easily have been a part of more wins during his first year with the Browns, but defensive letdowns and other factors have interfered. Campbell has been the first to admit the disappointment created by those circumstances has worn him down mentally.
“[My dad] said I need to sound a little bit more enthused,” Campbell said Tuesday before practice. “I told him it kind of hurts when you look at the opportunity that’s been there. We’ve had the opportunity to win some of these games, some of these tough games, and really help a franchise out to get turned around. Some of the games I’ve played up to my ability, some games I’ve had a couple mistakes. It’s been tough in that aspect because I wanted to take advantage of the full opportunity presented.”
Coach Rob Chudzinski said Campbell will remain the team’s No. 1 quarterback Sunday, when the Browns (4-11) visit the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) for the season finale. Campbell, who’ll turn 32 on Dec. 31, realizes he might not get another shot as an NFL starter, and even though he’s under contract next season, his future with the Browns is anything but certain.
So after Campbell threw two interceptions and finished with a season-low passer rating of 37.3 this past weekend in a 24-13 loss to the New York Jets, he needed a pep talk from his dad.
“He’s the guy I go to, to give me that little extra boost that I need,” Campbell said. “He asked me what’s my Christmas gift? I told him I really don’t want a Christmas gift, just to get a W, just to end the season the right way. That would be the only Christmas gift I’d really appreciate.”
Campbell’s dad reminded him about the importance of relaxing and projecting confidence.
“It’s Christmas time, time to be jolly, not sullen,” Campbell said. “It’s time to smile and not frown. We don’t need any Grinches. We need to go out, have fun, cut it loose and fix the things we need to fix in the offseason and come back next year.”
After the Browns suffered their sixth consecutive defeat and ninth loss in the past 10 games, Campbell conceded that he began pressing once the Jets (7-8) rallied from a 10-0 deficit late in the second quarter and tied the score heading into halftime.
The Browns were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before they even traveled to MetLife Stadium, so why would any of their players press, let alone a nine-year veteran like Campbell?
“Even when you don’t have anything to lose, it’s the inside of you that wants to win no matter what,” Campbell said. “If I’m outside playing a basketball game, a pickup game, you want to win if you’re a competitive person. A noncompetitive person would say I don’t care. We won’t have those types of guys on this team. We have guys that just want to win, and they’re still fighting.”
Four days before Campbell made the comments about pressing, he admitted that an emotionally draining loss to the New England Patriots on Dec. 8 affected him in a Dec. 15 defeat against the Chicago Bears. In the past week, Campbell has been shockingly open about his struggles coping with adversity.
“I think I take things a little too hard at times,” said Campbell, whose career record as a starter is 32-46. “A lot of it just comes from the pressure of just wanting to be successful and reach the expectations you have for yourself. … Overall, you know I’m happy in some things, but overall I’m disappointed in a lot of things. I wanted to have a lot more wins.”
Despite the way Campbell describes his mentality, left guard John Greco insisted he has never noticed Campbell pout.
“I don’t see that,” Greco said. “Everyone fights themselves mentally, but I think from everything I’ve seen, if something negative happens, he’s been able to turn it around and, at least in our eyes, get the ball rolling in the right direction again.”
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas echoed Greco’s sentiments and insisted he likes the way Campbell has carried himself.
“He’s not the most outspoken guy, but he definitely is a guy who wants to take on that leadership role,” Thomas said. “He wants to make sure everybody’s doing the right thing in practice and games. He gets everybody ready in the huddle. He gives speeches when they need to be given. I think he does a good job as a leader.”
In terms of his production, Campbell has been both good and bad this season. In three of his seven starts, he completed 74-of-115 passes (64.3 percent) for 946 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions, posting a passer rating of 113.2. In the other four starts, he completed 82-of-157 passes (52.2 percent) for 823 yards and two touchdowns with seven interceptions, posting a passer rating of 53.1.
In two of the poor performances, injured ribs and a concussion were factors. He suffered the concussion in the third quarter of a 27-11 loss to the Steelers on Nov. 24 when cornerback William Gay used his left hand to whack Campbell’s face mask. The strike caused Campbell to drop the ball. Safety Will Allen returned the fumble 49 yards to the Browns’ 4-yard line, the Steelers scored a touchdown to go ahead 20-3 and ensured they would dash the slim playoff hopes the Browns had at the time.
Gay was not penalized for the hit, but the NFL later acknowledged roughing the passer should have been called by fining him $15,750.
Campbell signed a two-year, $3.75 million contract this past March. The Browns can pick up a $250,000 option this coming March and keep him next season, when he’s due a $2 million base salary, or instead opt to cut him at no cost. Chudzinski declined to discuss Campbell’s future on Tuesday.
“What’s going to happen is going to happen,” Campbell said. “Whether I’m here or anywhere else or mentoring or playing, what’s going to happen is going to be. That aspect I can’t worry about. You can’t predict the future or destiny. That’s out of my control.”
Campbell was exceptional against the Patriots, but he has since turned in back-to-back clunkers against the Bears and Jets. He doesn’t know how those performances will affect his future with the Browns or how he would fit into the team’s plans with Brian Hoyer expected to be back next season after rehabilitating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and with the organization likely aiming to draft another quarterback.
“That’s up to the GM and the coaching staff based on the circumstances we’ve had here,” Campbell said, adding that his seven starts have come during a tough part of the schedule. “I just want to finish on a high note and go into the offseason feeling good or at least get a win going into the offseason and not feel bitter or bad about some things.
“I’ve been in those shoes before when you lost your job due to injury, and I have the utmost respect for Brian, and if they decide to draft a guy, utmost respect for that guy, too. At the same time, whatever my role is when I’m here, I’m still competing. But I do everything I can to help whoever it is.”