BEREA — Jason Campbell’s struggles against the Bengals surprised his coaches and teammates.
They’ll be stunned if he doesn’t rebound with a solid performance Sunday vs. the Steelers.
“Throughout Jason’s career he’s had some tough times, some times he was down and he’s always been able to come back from that,” said defensive end Desmond Bryant, who played with Campbell for two years in Oakland. “As professionals, we all know we’re not always going to have great games every game, so when you do have a bad game, the way you really show your character is to come back the next game and play well. Jason’s a really high-character guy, I think he’ll really get it done this week.”
“He’s established trust from the players,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “You don’t just lose it. He’s going to come back out and start it all back up again.”
The discussion leading into the Bengals game included Campbell playing the best ball of his nine-year career after being out of a starting job for two years. His first two Browns starts finished with 100-plus passer ratings, and he provided the hope and confidence that the Browns would win in Cincinnati and make a move toward first place in the AFC North.
That didn’t happen. The game was lost in the second quarter as Cincinnati scored 31 straight points, but Campbell didn’t escape blame.
He went 27-for-56 for 248 yards, a touchdown, three interceptions and a 44.3 rating. All three interceptions were tipped, but he also missed open receivers and dumped the ball underneath too much. He was sacked four times.
“You can’t do anything about the tipped interceptions, but you can do something about playing better,” he said Wednesday. “I was hard on myself Sunday night and Monday. I really was hurt by the outcome of the game, because it was a game I felt like we had a chance to win and put ourselves in a really good position.”
As a veteran leader, part of Campbell’s job is to set an example. He knows he can’t wallow in the loss.
“What happened Sunday is done, is over,” he said. “You can look at it two ways, you can bounce back this Sunday and be like, ‘We’re going to come out and play great,’ or you can continue to hang your hat on that and come out and be flat. With us being in the race right now at 4-6 with a lot of other teams, we need to put this one quickly behind us.”
Campbell, 31, traveled a rocky road to arrive as the Browns starter and doesn’t want the opportunity to get away from him.
He started at least 12 games in four straight seasons with moderate success – one winning season, yearly passer ratings between 77.6 and 86.4 – as he went through coordinators, left Washington for Oakland and lost time to injuries. But after a broken collarbone in 2011, he seemed destined to spend the rest of his career as a backup – until replacing a struggling Brandon Weeden in Week 8.
One poor game isn’t going to bury him.
“You look around the league and you see guys that will play great three or four weeks and then they’ll have a rough one,” said Campbell, who’s 32-42 as a starter. “It’s all about bouncing back the next week. You can’t live in the past. Even in your life, you can’t live in the past.
“Your past can help you, but if you hang onto it, it can hurt you. It’s quickly got to be done and behind you. This is a new week, a new opportunity. If you can get on a streak here, you can look back at that game and say it made us a stronger and better team.”
Campbell sustained bruised ribs Nov. 3 against the Ravens but returned to finish the game. He admitted it wasn’t easy to put the pain out of his mind against the Bengals.
“It was a challenge last week, but it’s a new week now,” he said. “I try not to put too much focus on it or none at all. I feel great.
“(The ribs aren’t) even in my mindset this week. If you’re on the field, you’re healthy enough to play.”
Campbell didn’t scramble at all vs. the Bengals and didn’t throw deep often, but said the injury wasn’t to blame for the subpar performance.
“I don’t think so. It’s just a matter of getting back into rhythm,” he said. “I feel like I never got into a rhythm in the game and we just never got ourselves going offensively like we’re used to and we just have to get used to doing everything a little bit faster with more of a sense of urgency.”
Campbell hadn’t thrown an interception in 98 passes until Cincinnati and has completed 56 percent for 809 yards, six touchdowns, three interceptions and a 106.6 rating on the season.
“He’s a strong-armed quarterback that’s capable of making any of the throws on the field,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He doesn’t flinch in the face of pressure or adversity. He’s a ‘Steady Eddy’ performer from that standpoint. He’s a solid, battle-tested, veteran player.”
Campbell wasn’t off to a great start, but the Browns managed to lead Cincinnati 13-0 on the strength of two Haden interceptions. The game turned at the end of the first quarter when defensive end Michael Johnson tipped a Campbell pass and linebacker James Harrison intercepted. Campbell was throwing a quick hook to receiver Josh Gordon.
“It’s nothing you can anticipate,” Campbell said. “He made a great play by getting his hands in the air. Unfortunately it landed in one of their linebacker’s hands, so there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The second interception was tipped at the line of scrimmage and flew over the head of receiver Greg Little. The third, in garbage time, was knocked out of Little’s arms.
“Everything went wrong,” Campbell said of the loss. “We can’t take anything from them, but we know we’re a way better football team than what we put out.”
Nearly from the moment he arrived, coach Rob Chudzinski has stressed the importance of a quarterback’s resilience. Campbell’s test will come vs. the Steelers, and Chudzinski is confident he’ll pass with flying colors.
“Just seeing him, being around him, knowing what he’s made of,” Chudzinski said. “Also, just looking at his past and all of the things that he’s battled back from, and he has the experience of doing that. That’s what really defines quarterbacks in this league, because they’re going to go through some rough stretches and some have some rough games.
“He’s anxious to get going this week and have a great week of prep and get ready and play the way that he can.”