KANSAS CITY, Mo.: Before Sunday, Jason Campbell was considered a journeyman, a mentor, and the Browns’ last resort.
Outside of team headquarters, few thought the Browns could succeed with the nine-year veteran quarterback who hadn’t been a regular starter since he went 4-2 with the Oakland Raiders to open the 2011 season.
Campbell proved otherwise in a 23-17 loss to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Facing one of the league’s premier defenses, Campbell showed he had enough mobility, moxie and arm strength to help the Browns salvage a respectable season.
But that’s providing the front office doesn’t rob him of all his weapons before this week’s trade deadline. That’s providing wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, the players most rumored to be drawing interest, still remain on the Browns’ roster when the clock hits 4 p.m. Tuesday.
At the midpoint of the season, the Browns (3-5) don’t have to make this all about stockpiling draft picks for next year. Campbell can help Gordon and Cameron learn, grow and mature. The two are already the Browns’ biggest weapons. They could become two of the league’s best offensive players if Browns CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi don’t jettison them because they weren’t their picks or because Gordon is one failed drug test away from a year’s suspension.
Yes, the first 26 minutes against the Chiefs were as ugly offensively as anything orchestrated by quarterback Brandon Weeden, benched Wednesday after going 0-4 as the starter this season.
But after three three-and-outs, Campbell showed the young Browns they didn’t have to remain mired in such misery. With back-to-back passes, 19 yards to Cameron and a 39-yard touchdown to Gordon, the magic was back. That magic seemed gone Oct. 3, when quarterback Brian Hoyer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Since training camp, Campbell has barely practiced with the first team. He hasn’t developed much chemistry with Gordon and Cameron. Yet Gordon caught five passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, and Cameron pulled in all four thrown to him for 81 yards. They were a big reason Campbell completed 22-of-36 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He was sacked only once by a defense that came into last week leading the league with 35.
Campbell’s 105.4 rating was the Browns’ highest of the season. It could have been higher had Campbell and Gordon hooked up on a long bomb on third down on their first possession. Gordon said he was looking in the wrong place for the ball.
“We are learning each other. The more you continue to grow and the more reps we have together he’ll understand how I try to get the ball out sometimes and me putting it in a better place for him,” Campbell said of that play. “There’s room to grow in a lot of areas, but a lot of it is just trying to find chemistry with each other.”
Campbell, 31, will not be part of the Browns’ future. But Cameron and Gordon should be. And Campbell might be the steadying force and the accurate passer they need to make progress the rest of the season.
All signs point to the Browns’ top two quarterbacks in 2014 being whomever they draft in the first round and Hoyer. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski wouldn’t even commit to Campbell as his starter next week at home against the Baltimore Ravens. As he praised Campbell, especially for his leadership as the Browns fought back from a 13-0 deficit, Chudzinski hedged.
“At first glance, he made some great plays for us,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll have to go back and look at the tape from an X’s and O’s standpoint.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid was much more complimentary. Reid even remembered that Campbell, drafted 25th overall in 2005 by the Washington Redskins, led Auburn to an undefeated season in 2004.
“Things didn’t work out for him in a couple of places,” Reid said of Campbell, who played for the Redskins, Raiders and Chicago Bears before signing with the Browns in March. “He’s had different coordinators every year of his career. Quarterbacks, when they get in stable situations, young guys, normally it kind of works out for them. But when you get a bunch of different people coming in, it can hurt you. It can follow you during your career. That doesn’t dismiss how much respect I have for him. He’s a good player.”
Campbell had been passed over by the Browns twice this season, first when Chudzinski picked No. 3 Hoyer to start on the road against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 22 in place of Weeden, who sprained his right thumb Sept. 15 in Baltimore. Then when Weeden was cleared to play for the Oct. 3 home game against the Buffalo Bills, Chudzinski demoted Campbell to No. 3, making him inactive.
Campbell could have left Arrowhead Stadium with a feeling of vindication, but it didn’t seem to be there. He said Sunday wasn’t about making a personal statement, but about getting a victory.
“I proved I can still play the game,” he said before turning his answer back to team matters.
As Tuesday looms, it’s the team that matters, not Gordon’s two strikes or next year’s draft picks or who picked whom. Plenty of winnable games remain, especially if Campbell continues to perform as he did Sunday. To do that, he needs Gordon and Cameron in the Browns’ huddle.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.