CLEVELAND -- All victories count as one, but some carry more meaning.
This was one of those extra-special wins.
The Browns beat the Ravens 24-18 Sunday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. They entered the bye week with a joyous celebration, a strong sense of satisfaction and a ton of optimism.
The win snapped an 11-game losing streak to Baltimore that was the longest in the NFL. It ended a three-game skid this season. It moved the Browns (4-5) within two games of Cincinnati (6-3) in the AFC North.
If that weren’t enough, it put a huge dent in the playoff hopes of the defending Super Bowl champions, who fell to 3-5 with their third straight loss.
“I think it was a sigh of relief and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” said quarterback Jason Campbell, who got his first win with the Browns in his second start. “It was a must-win game. It’s a playoff atmosphere-type game.”
Campbell spoke through halted breaths, because his ribs were killing him. Haloti Ngata, Baltimore’s 340-pound nose tackle, fell on Campbell, who smashed the ball between him and the turf with 1:48 left in the first quarter. Ngata drew a 15-yard penalty and apologized after the game.
Campbell, 31, left for the rest of the possession – Brandon Weeden entered to some boos – but returned to finish the victory. He had X-rays after the game and expected the results by today.
“I doubt that they are broken,” he said. “I’ve been in this game so long I could tell if something was broken.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t damage, or that he didn’t play through a lot of pain. His status for the trip to Cincinnati on Nov. 17 is uncertain, but the extra week has to help.
Campbell said the ribs “grabbed” when he tried to let a few throws rip, and he took another big hit after the most important completion of the game – a fourth down with 3:12 left.
“I wasn’t coming out of the game,” Campbell said. “They would have to drag me out of the game. I wanted to stay out there with those guys and keep fighting.”
“He did a good job hiding (the pain),” center Alex Mack said.
Campbell went 23-for-35 for 262 yards, a career-high-tying three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 116.6 rating. He was at his best in the biggest moments.
Coach Rob Chudzinski went for it twice on fourth down, putting the game in Campbell’s hands. He didn’t drop the ball. Neither did receiver Davone Bess.
“We need that. We can’t be afraid,” said nose tackle Phil Taylor, who had a huge tackle of running back Ray Rice but no recurrence of their “spitting” confrontation from Week 2. “Championship teams go for it a lot on fourth down if need be.”
On fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the first quarter, Campbell beat the blitz by fading backward and sending a pass to Bess, who took a shot in the back but hung on for a 7-0 lead.
Clinging to a 21-18 lead with 3:12 left, the Browns faced fourth-and-1 on the Baltimore 43-yard line. Chudzinski never hesitated to go for it, but called timeout to pick a play.
The plan went awry and Campbell improvised. He scrambled to his right, bought some time and threw down the middle, where Bess was making his way back toward the line. He snatched it for a 3-yard gain.
The Browns picked up two more first downs -- one on a Campbell flip to fullback Chris Ogbonnaya – and Billy Cundiff finally kicked a 22-yard field goal with 14 seconds left. The definitive drive covered 67 yards in 15 plays and took 6:30 off the clock.
Bess dropped an eerily similar play on fourth down in the fourth quarter last week in Kansas City, one of three drops in the loss and nine for the year. On Sunday against the Ravens, Bess caught three passes for 24 yards – his first two touchdowns of the year and the pivotal fourth-down conversion.
“He came to me Monday and said, ‘J., I’ll be there for you this week,’” Campbell said of Bess, who also had a key fumble on a punt return against the Chiefs. “I told him I believed in him. I thought he came out here and put in his mind to show people what type of player he is.”
Neither team had much of a running game, as Rice and Cleveland’s Willis McGahee were each held to 1.5 yards per carry. But with receiver Josh Gordon (three catches, 44 yards) and tight end Jordan Cameron (one catch, 4 yards) stifled, Bess and receiver Greg Little made the difference.
Little overcame two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and a shoulder injury that sent him to the sidelines twice and for X-rays after the game. He finished the game and had a career-high seven catches for 122 yards, including a 32-yard catch-and-run to set up the first touchdown.
Combined with a defense that sacked Joe Flacco five times and intercepted him once, the Browns were able to knock the bully down a peg.
“We’ve been a kid brother in this division for a long time,” Chudzinski said. “If you want to change that, then you have to go do things to change it. We were able to get it done on the field today.”
The Browns hadn’t beaten Baltimore since 2007. Left tackle Joe Thomas and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson are the only players remaining from that team.
“Really the people that understand it are D’Qwell, myself and the fans,” Thomas said. “It feels great. Hopefully we’ve renewed a rivalry a little bit.”
Cornerback Joe Haden created a bit of a stir during the week when he said, “The Ravens aren’t the Ravens of old.” He looks prophetic.
They made mistakes at critical times – Tandon Doss’ muffed punt set up a Browns touchdown – and couldn’t get off the field on the final drive. Flacco (24-for-41 for 250 yards, two touchdowns, 82.4 rating) misfired all day and Rice looked 35 years old. Flacco and coach John Harbaugh had never lost to the Browns in 11 tries, and Harbaugh was 5-0 after byes.
“Like Joe said, and I said too, they’re not the same team as they were last year,” Taylor said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re not the same team.”
The win was about more than exorcising the demons of Art Modell, Ray Lewis and Co. It was about remaining relevant in the division into November. The Browns improved to 2-1 in the North and 3-2 at home.
“We know we’re in the hunt,” Jackson said. “That’s all we can do at this point in time, just win enough games, stay in the hunt and we’ll see where this season takes us.”
The Browns are hoping that it’s Campbell at the wheel.
“I didn’t expect him to come back and when I saw him come back, it just juiced everyone,” Jackson said. “Everyone was excited, and at that point, you got a sense of confidence throughout the entire team that we were going to do whatever it takes to win this game.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. Cincinnati
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 17, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM