By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Coach Rob Chudzinski is sticking with Brandon Weeden as the Browns’ starting quarterback despite his baffling, backhanded, shovel-pass interception in the fourth quarter of a 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Although the vast majority of Browns fans are calling for Weeden’s head, Chudzinski said the organization is not contemplating a change at quarterback and has not even discussed replacing Weeden with backup Jason Campbell. So Weeden, who turned 30 on Monday, will receive a shot at redemption when the Browns (3-3) visit the Green Bay Packers (3-2) on Sunday.
“This was one game,” Chudzinski said Monday during a news conference. “I thought Brandon played well in spurts.
“Brandon’s doing some good things. It’s really just a matter of cutting out the critical mistakes.”
The most glaring miscue cost the Browns a chance at a comeback.
On first-and-10 at the Lions’ 44-yard line with the Browns trailing 24-17, Weeden flipped the ball toward fullback Chris Ogbonnaya a split-second before defensive tackle C.J. Mosley grabbed Weeden’s left ankle and yanked him to the ground. After the game, Weeden insisted he attempted to fling the ball over Ogbonnaya and out of bounds but later said he was trying to get the ball to Ogbonnaya. Either way, linebacker DeAndre Levy jumped in front of Ogbonnaya and intercepted the pass along the sideline at the Browns’ 49 with 4:36 remaining.
Weeden called the ill-advised heave a “boneheaded play.” Seven plays later, the Lions (4-2) scored a touchdown to ensure they would snap the Browns’ three-game winning streak.
“We don’t ever want to flip a ball like that,” Chudzinski said. “When you do that, and you’re pitching something underhand, it has a tendency of going up on you and rising on you. So obviously you don’t want to do it in that matter. You want to throw the ball out of bounds or take the sack if you have to.
“He was trying to get rid of the ball as best he could. At that position, you see it across the league — guys make mistakes. They’re going to throw interceptions and things like that. It’s a matter of being smart with the football, and we have to take care of the football.”
Weeden is 0-3 as a starter this season and 5-13 in his career. Quarterback Brian Hoyer led the Browns to consecutive wins in Weeks 3 and 4, but he suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the first quarter Oct. 3 against the Buffalo Bills. Weeden entered the game with the Browns trailing 7-0 and helped them prevail 37-24.
Still, after the collapse against the Lions, many outsiders wonder why the Browns won’t give Campbell a chance as the starter. Chudzinski was asked whether there is something preventing that from happening.
“There’s nothing blocking that,” Chudzinski said. “I feel good about Jason. This has been one game. I thought Brandon played well, did a lot of things to make plays to help us beat Buffalo. This was one game. We have to really just work on those critical errors.”
Weeden completed 26-of-43 passes (60.5 percent) for 292 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, posting a passer rating of 76.9. His final interception sealed the Browns’ fate.
“It really just boils down to those critical decisions and mistakes that he made yesterday, and I know he wants them back and would like to have them back,” Chudzinski said. “But there’s also mistakes from other guys there, too. At times, we didn’t have anybody open, and he’s trying to find somebody. At times, we made some mental mistakes whether it was in the run game or protections or whatever they are. Obviously the quarterback is the guy that everybody sees, and that’s part of the job. But we all have to get better and play more consistently overall.”
The Browns led 17-7 at halftime but were outscored 24-0 in the second half. The meltdown certainly wasn’t all Weeden’s fault.
“It’s never just about one play or person to assign blame,” Chudzinski said. “We all can be better.
“I think the energy’s there, the emotion’s there. We just have to come out and execute better in the early parts of the third quarter.”
The defense entered the weekend ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed (301.8 per game) and ninth in points allowed (18.8 per game). However, quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Reggie Bush and tight end Joseph Fauria thrashed the Browns after halftime. The Lions converted 6-of-7 third downs in the second half and scored on four of their five second-half possessions.
“We have to respond,” said inside linebacker Craig Robertson, the only starter available for interviews in the locker room Monday despite being repeatedly beaten in coverage against the Lions. “It’s a good chance to respond going to Green Bay and try to get a win.”
Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, will need to put his blunder behind him to give the Browns a legitimate opportunity to succeed.
“He’s our quarterback,” Robertson said. “You can’t toss and turn quarterbacks every week. You’ve got to stick with one, and we’ve got to rally behind him.”
In the first half, the Browns had 16 carries for 115 yards (7.2 average). That’s more rushing yards than they previously had in an entire game this season.
So why did they have just five carries for 11 yards (2.2 average) in the second half?
“If you look at it on first and second down, I think we were three runs and three passes during the first three series we [had in the second half],” Chudzinski said. “On the fourth series, we got the intentional grounding on the [second] play of that series. So I think you have to look at it from that standpoint on run downs and real run opportunities — what’s the breakdown and what’s the balance?”
The Lions’ final scoring drive was kept alive on third-and-3 at the Browns’ 31 when outside linebacker Quentin Groves drew a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty. “We send in a number of plays each week [to the NFL] to get clarification on, and we’ll do that,” Chudzinski said. “What it was explained to me was that he drove him into the ground on that. That was the explanation I got on the sideline, so he can’t do that.” … Chudzinski conceded he would like starting left outside linebacker Paul Kruger to have more than one sack this season. Chudzinski also said he hopes starting right outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard will return from a sprained left knee against the Packers, and he believes Sheard’s presence could help Kruger.
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.