By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Photo/AP via ESPN.com
Updated at 9:57 p.m.
Emerging more than an hour after X-rays on his ribs and treatment in the trainer’s room, Jason Campbell looked up from a podium, his voice softer than usual because of shortness of breath, and said, “I think the bye week is coming at a good time.”
Campbell had just put on a heroic performance that few, if any, Browns quarterbacks could match in the 15 years of the expansion era.
He not only made the plays to turn back the desperate, fading Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and end their 11-game mastery over the Browns with a 24-18 triumph that he termed a must-win.
Campbell did so time and again after injuring his ribs late in the first quarter after Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata crashed down on him after a run. Ngata’s 340 pounds landed on Campbell’s back with the ball pressing on Campbell’s ribs. Campbell had to leave for three plays, during which the very sight of Brandon Weeden elicited screams louder than heard at a Halloween fright house.
“They would have had to drag me out of the game,” Campbell said.
He came back to complete a three-touchdown, no-interception, 262-yard day on which his leadership and passing outplayed Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, who didn’t go down to his first career loss to the Browns without a fight.
Flacco’s 7-yard TD pass to Marlon Brown and two-point throw to the same rookie receiver closed the Browns’ lead to a nervous 21-18 with 12:09 to go in the fourth quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Campbell took over at the Browns’ 29 with 6:44 to go. He proceeded to engineer a 15-play possession that consumed all but 14 seconds of the game clock and ended in a cherry-topping 22-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
The play of the drive – and the day – began with coach Rob Chudzinski calling time and then deciding to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Ravens’ 43-yard line. The first-year coach leads the league in fourth-down gambles by a wide margin. He set the tone by green-lighting a fourth-and-goal pass to Davone Bess in the first quarter, which Bess caught at the goal line and held on after a brutal hit from the back by cornerback Lardarius Webb.
That catch – Bess’ first TD with the Browns -- redeemed Bess from last week’s debacle (three drops and a fumbled punt). Then Bess scored another TD on a catch-and-run of 20 yards on which Bess faked Webb into the network highlight shows with an outside move at the 10-yard line.
Then with the game very much on the line – and Campbell’s ribs hurting more from extensive throws and hits from the Ravens -- Campbell rolled to the right sideline hoping for a receiver to come to him. It was Bess, on a play very similar to the one that ended the upset bid in Kansas City a week earlier. Bess read Campbell’s scrambling and ran toward Campbell. This time Bess made the catch as he slid right at the first-down marker.
“It was huge, probably the biggest play of the game,” Campbell said. “I was so happy for him to come back in a similar situation from a week ago and step up to make a play to get open.”
Bess was targeted four times and made the three biggest catches of his Browns’ career, rewarding his coach and teammates’ faith in him.
Last week, Bess had fallen to the lowest point of his seven-year NFL career. On Sunday, he experienced perhaps the highest point.
“Yeah,” Bess affirmed, “mostly because we won the game.”
Away from the ball, Campbell was felled again to the ground by a Baltimore rusher after releasing the ball to Bess.
“Willis McGahee – we’re the old guys on the team -- was saying, ‘Get up. Get up. You gotta get up,’” Campbell said. “I was gonna get up anyways. I said, ‘Gosh, give me 10 seconds to breathe.’”
Campbell said the X-rays were negative but he was definitely in pain and would know more on Monday. He said, “I’ve been around long enough where I can tell if something was broken. I doubt they’re broken.”
It would be unbelievable – no, typical for the Browns -- if Campbell could not play the next game Nov. 17 in Cincinnati after the needed week off.
Campbell was turnover-free for his second start in a row. He spread the ball around as Baltimore focused heavily on Josh Gordon (three catches, 44 yards) and Jordan Cameron (one catch for four yards).
Campbell used Bess for the key grabs, tossed a 4-yard touchdown to backup tight end Gary Barnidge and targeted Greg Little nine times. Little turned in a career-high seven catches and made plays after the catches for 122 yards, including a 46-yard play that set up one TD. Little suffered a shoulder injury late in the game.
Little also was whistled for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties when he ripped the helmet off safety James Ihedigbo during one skirmish and taunted him after a catch.
But the Browns overcame Little’s brain lapses. And they overcame a McGahee fumble. And a late scare by Flacco, who threw 41 times, completing 24 for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
The Browns received sacks from five different players and Joe Haden nabbed his first interception of the year on a Flacco deep ball that floated in a stiff wind against the Dawg Pound.
“That was a battle,” said cornerback Buster Skrine. “Flacco, he is a fighter. But today was our day. There’s a lot of stuff set up by this game.”
“This is one of the biggest wins for us,” said Haden, whose comments about these Ravens not being “the Ravens of old” were a mid-week story. “We just felt we wouldn’t lose.”
The win ended the Browns’ three-game losing streak and drew them into second place in the AFC North with a 4-5 record – two games behind (6-3) Cincinnati. The Bengals play the 3-5 Ravens next week, and then the Browns. The Steelers are 2-6.
“We still have a lot of games to go ... a lot ahead of us,” said left tackle Joe Thomas.
For a change, they can be quite meaningful after this one.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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