EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The points left behind were huge. The letdown that ensued might’ve been worse.
The Browns wasted scoring chances early, getting only 10 points on three trips inside the red zone, then watched the Jets sprint by them for a 24-13 win Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
After the touchdowns didn’t come and the lead disappeared, the Browns couldn’t recover. The leader, quarterback Jason Campbell, questioned the team’s mental toughness, starting with himself.
“It’s frustrating. It’s a whole new ballgame if we can score early in the game and get touchdowns, instead of three,” Campbell said. “We went for it one time on fourth down and didn’t get it. That’s points that are not on the board. When that happens, everyone starts to press. Everyone wants to make plays and everyone is trying to make plays.
“When it’s just not happening, I think we just get kind of frustrated instead of just playing our game.”
Campbell said during the week he thought the gut-wrenching loss to the Patriots on Dec. 8 lingered and affected the Browns in last week’s loss to Chicago. As he reflected in the moments following the loss to the Jets, he admitted it’s still bothering him.
“I’m disappointed in letting things kind of get to (me) a little bit over the last couple of weeks,” he said. “We feel like, as a team, we’re good and we’re building and we’re right there, then it just kind of deflates you a little bit when you don’t get the win.
“You come back the same this weekend, we’re doing the same things to try and get better, and it’s tough. It’s a lot easier when you’re winning than when you’re losing. At the same time, I think the guys’ effort is there. Guys continue to keep fighting, no one is laying down, but today, starting with me, we started to press a little bit when things started to unravel early in the game.”
Unravel is a strong word when the game was tied at 10 at halftime. But Campbell used it multiple times to describe the afternoon. His performance certainly dipped after the offense failed to build a bigger lead.
The Browns ran a total of 20 plays in the red zone, including 13 from the 10-yard line or inside, but scored only 13 points. The first trip ended with a 27-yard Billy Cundiff field goal after receiver Greg Little dropped a pass over the middle in the end zone.
“It’s been the story of the season — not capitalizing on opportunities,” Little said. “Myself included. I just feel like we’ve got to get seven when we get three. Looking in retrospect of our season, it would be a lot different than it is now.”
The second trip inside the 20 was even more frustrating.
The Browns had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line and Edwin Baker ran for a yard. Campbell threw away the ball on second down, then receiver Josh Gordon dropped a fade in the left corner of the end zone against rookie cornerback Dee Milliner.
Campbell got the matchup again on fourth down and threw to Gordon again on the same route. Gordon didn’t catch it cleanly, and the official ruled he was juggling it as he stepped out of bounds.
“I missed a lot of plays that could have been made,” said Gordon, who had six catches for 97 yards. “Just missed certain plays and couldn’t capitalize when we needed to.”
The Browns scored on their next possession when Baker scored from 5 yards for his second touchdown in two weeks with the team. He rushed 17 times for 64 yards, one of the lone bright spots in a terribly dark end to the season.
His day was lost in an avalanche of blown chances and frustration.
Campbell played poorly for the second straight game, going 18-for-40 for 178 yards, two interceptions and a 37.3 rating. He missed several open receivers and threw a pivotal interception in the third quarter in Jets territory with the score tied at 10.
“I started trying to press, just trying to hit everything and make sure we can try to do things instead of just staying relaxed and letting the game come to you,” Campbell said. “It just felt that way because early in the game things happened.”
The final red zone trip ended with a 21-yard field goal with 9:40 left when a touchdown would’ve tied the game at 17. Baker appeared to score again on a second-down run from the 2, but tight end Gary Barnidge was called for a false start and the Browns couldn’t recover.
“We stress the red zone,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “You just have to get touchdowns when you get down in the red zone. That’s the bottom line. We had some drops, a couple of drops in the end zone. And that’s the name of the game.”
Chudzinski said he never considered replacing Campbell with Brandon Weeden because Campbell gave them the best shot to win.
“It starts with me as the leader, first and foremost,” Campbell said. “I just have to rally the guys around me, make sure I’m doing my job and make sure we’re in good position to score points.”