(Three points of interest in today’s game)
Quarterback Jason Campbell is excited to be back from a concussion, even if it means a matchup with New England coach Bill Belichick. Campbell hopes to regain the form that led to 100-plus ratings in his first two Browns starts, before injured ribs and the concussion stopped his momentum. Campbell returned to practice Thursday, said he had two great days and declared his health as good as it’s been in a long time.
“I had no doubts that Jason wanted to get back as soon as possible,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “He’s very highly respected with the team. He cares about the guys on the team, and I know he wants to do whatever he can to help and was able to get back and have a real productive week.”
New England’s defense ranks 10th in scoring (21.8 points per game), 10th against the pass (224.0 yards per game) and has 14 interceptions and 35 sacks. It held Peyton Manning to 132 net passing yards Nov. 24 as the Patriots rallied to beat Denver. Belichick, who can extend his NFL record to 11 straight 10-win seasons, will undoubtedly have a wrinkle or two designed to confuse Campbell. Campbell, who is 0-2 against Belichick with 541 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, must make the necessary adjustments quickly and avoid turnovers. The Browns have proved time and again they’re not able to overcome them.
“He’s smart and over the years I’ve had a chance to see him and one thing he always does is try to take away what you do best,” Campbell said of Belichick. “We can’t dictate what’s going to happen. But each time you watch the film, they do something different every team they play based on what a team does best.”
TRY TO STOP ME
Josh Gordon can be forgiven if he’s feeling invincible. The best two- (498) and three-game (623) receiving stretch in NFL history will do that to a 22-year-old. Gordon faces what could be his toughest challenge of the year today, going against Belichick’s scheme and physical cornerback Aqib Talib. Gordon offered the proper respect to both, but didn’t sound concerned.
“He’s doing a great job right now for that defense,” Gordon said of Talib. “But I’m going to come out there and do the same, go out there and make plays myself and try to make sure that nobody can stop me. I’m pretty sure he’ll make some plays, but I’m definitely going to make more plays.”
Talib, a Cleveland native, is among the league’s biggest corners (6-foot-1, 205) and could be headed to his first Pro Bowl. He held Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas to a season-low 41 yards, blanked Saints tight end Jimmy Graham before leaving in the second half with an injury and has 19 interceptions, 60 passes defensed and four touchdowns since 2009. But the red-hot Gordon will be his biggest test. Gordon leads the league with 19.5 yards per catch, is second with 1,249 yards and needs 124 to pass Calvin Johnson (746) for the best four-game stretch in history.
“He’s a huge challenge. He’s been hot the last few weeks,” Talib said. “They definitely do a good job feeding him the ball. He reminds you of those names, the Calvin Johnsons, the Andre Johnsons, just bigger guys with little-guy speed and quickness, He can turn an 8-yard curl into a touchdown in a heartbeat.”
ATTACK ON THE GROUND
The Browns have been unable to muster a strong running game all season. This afternoon would be a good time to change that. The Patriots run defense allows 138.2 yards per game (31st) and 4.5 yards per rush (26th) and is without its two best defenders, lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, who are done for the year with injuries. The Patriots allowed the Texans to rush for 121 yards, a 4.3 average and four touchdowns last week.
An effective rushing attack would also keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands and shorten the game — a must for a heavy underdog on the road against a team that is an NFL-best 46-6 in December since 2001, including 22-2 at home since 2002.
Cleveland’s run game showed signs of life last week against Jacksonville’s last-ranked rush defense with 97 yards, including the second rushing touchdown of the year, and that trend must continue. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner must commit to the run while finding the proper balance among Chris Ogbonnaya, Willis McGahee and Fozzy Whittaker.
Career wins for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, including three Super Bowls.
Wins by Belichick as coach of the Browns from 1991-95, including zero Super Bowls.
Penalties committed by the Patriots last week against Houston. They also had zero vs. Cincinnati.
Jason Campbell’s return makes it more respectable for the Browns, but he’s no Tom Brady. Patriots 27, Browns 17.