By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Not even a choppy, rough flight back to Cleveland in bad weather Sunday night could prevent Browns coach Rob Chudzinski from focusing on how to correct the miscues that haunted his team hours earlier in a 41-20 road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It was just a rough landing,” Chudzinski said. “I was watching tape, and was pretty engrossed in that on the way back.”
Although he kept himself distracted from the turbulence, Chudzinski didn’t like what he saw as he reviewed the video of the Browns’ most important game since 2007, when they went 10-6 but missed the playoffs while he served as their offensive coordinator. Coming off their first bye during Chudzinski’s short tenure as head coach, the Browns stalled in the red zone and settled for two field goals during the first quarter before wasting a 13-0 lead by allowing 31 unanswered points in a second quarter plagued by turnovers and special-teams breakdowns.
“Simply had too many mistakes and critical errors, particularly in the second quarter,” Chudzinski said. “That, coupled with not capitalizing on two early red-zone opportunities, the game just got away from us. We have to play better in all three phases. Our veterans have to play better, our young guys have to play better, and it needs to happen right away.”
Chudzinski has a sense of urgency because the Browns (4-6) will host the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6) on Sunday in a matchup of AFC North rivals desperately trying to stay alive in the wild-card race now that the Bengals (7-4) have a firm grip on first place in the division. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins are 5-5 and fighting for the AFC’s second wild-card berth with seven four-win teams, including the Browns and Steelers, still on the periphery of the postseason hunt.
“It was one game, and we have six more to go,” Chudzinski said. “There’s a lot still out there in front of us. I’m confident our guys will respond. We have a very close team, and these guys will continue to fight for each other and compete. I feel confident that we’ll bounce back.”
Perhaps the most important step on the road to redemption will be getting quarterback Jason Campbell to rebound after he completed 27-of-56 passes (48.2 percent) for 248 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions. Two of Campbell’s interceptions were definitely deflected, and a Bengals defender signaled as if he tipped the other. Campbell took four sacks and finished with a passer rating of 44.3. Linebacker James Harrison had the first interception, and it set up the first touchdown of the Bengals’ franchise-record, 31-point second quarter.
In the previous two games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, Campbell threw five touchdown passes without an interception and became the first quarterback during the Super Bowl era, since 1966, to tally passer ratings of more than 100 in his first two starts with the Browns.
“You’re not always going to play great every game,” Chudzinski said, adding there’s no doubt he’ll stick with Campbell moving forward this season. “You look at the last three games that Jason’s played have been against three very good defenses. I thought he played particularly well the other two games. He’s the first one to say he needs to do better. The key to quarterback and that position is how guys bounce back when they’re having some adversity or don’t play as well as they would have liked.”
After the game, Campbell blamed himself for missed opportunities in the red zone that led to the Browns settling for Billy Cundiff’s field goals of 20 and 28 yards in the opening quarter.
On second-and-goal from the 2-yard line, tight end Jordan Cameron was open in the end zone. Campbell saw him late but threw the ball out of the back of the end zone while pressured by defensive end Carlos Dunlap. On third-and-goal, wide receiver Greg Little was wide open in the end zone, but Campbell’s pass to him was batted down by defensive end Michael Johnson.
During the next possession on second-and-6 at the 10, Campbell overthrew running back Chris Ogbonnaya, and the pass fell incomplete as defenders dived for it inside the 5. On third-and-6 at the 10, Campbell’s pass to wide receiver Josh Gordon was late and too high for him to secure in the back corner of the end zone.
“We took steps backward [as an offense],” wide receiver Davone Bess said. “For us, we got better watching the tape, but it’s going to take us to another level. That’s our mindset. It’s behind us, and we’ve just got to move forward and stay positive.”
The special teams also must redeem itself after a deflected punt led to a touchdown and a blocked punt was recovered and returned for another score in the second quarter.
“For us, there’s just some bad luck in that game,” outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. “Those things don’t happen very often. They haven’t happened to us all season.”
The defense allowed just 10 first downs and 224 yards, held the Bengals to 1-of-14 on third down and produced a touchdown via cornerback Joe Haden’s 29-yard interception return in the first quarter. But it also failed to register a sack and gave up touchdowns instead of holding the Bengals to field goals after sudden changes of possession. Still, Chudzinski has faith his players can rally in all phases.
“I have no reason to think that they won’t bounce back and be ready to play and be excited to play this week,” Chudzinski said. “Being at home, I think will bring more energy to it with the big rivalry that we have with the Steelers.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.