CLEVELAND — A nightmare scenario played out for Browns fans Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, and it wasn’t just another loss to the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers.
Quarterback Jason Campbell was knocked out of the game early in the third quarter and didn’t return in Cleveland’s 27-11 loss to the Steelers. That meant Brandon Weeden had to play, and that’s enough to get any Browns fan’s blood boiling.
Weeden, the Dawg Pound’s favorite whipping boy, got an early indication of how he would be received when he had to spell Campbell for a play in the second quarter and entered the field to boos from the hometown crowd.
“You just gotta laugh at it,” said Weeden, who completed 13 of 30 passes for 209 yards in place of Campbell, throwing a touchdown pass, but also losing a fumble and throwing an interception that was returned for a TD. “All you can do is march the team down the field and throw a touchdown. I didn’t hear any boos after I threw that touchdown.”
Browns fans are going to have to get used to Weeden — at least for a while. With Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski confirming that Campbell suffered a concussion, it would be shocking should Weeden not be under center Sunday against Jacksonville.
Campbell was injured when he was sacked by Steelers cornerback William Gay, losing a fumble that was returned 49 yards to the Browns’ 4 by Will Allen and led to a TD that put Pittsburgh in front 20-3. Replays showed that Gay’s hand made contact with Campbell’s facemask, and Chudzinski said he thought a penalty should have been called.
Cleveland has already employed three quarterbacks this season after Bryan Hoyer replaced Weeden for Week 3, then was lost for the season to an ACL injury two games later. If Weeden does indeed start against the Jaguars in Week 12, it will be the fourth QB change for the Browns.
“We’ve got injuries going back-to-back with the quarterback situation and guys are getting frustrated by that,” wide receiver Josh Gordon said. “I think for any team it would be difficult. The only benefit is that we’ve already played with Brandon, so it’s easier to adjust to.”
There’s no doubt that the unheralded duo of Hoyer and Campbell have outperformed Weeden, who has already been benched twice this year. Hoyer is 3-0 as the starter with an 82.6 QB rating, while Campbell is 1-3 with a rating of 79.8. Weeden is 0-4 with a 66 rating, tossing seven interceptions to six touchdowns.
Campbell took over for Weeden in Week 8, playing well in a loss to the Chiefs and seemingly pulling the Browns back into contention by leading a 24-18 win over Baltimore the following game.
“When Campbell goes down, I mean, that’s our guy,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Weeden’s always ready to go in and play, but when you think you’ve got something going and thinking that you have your boy ...”
“You just gotta adjust,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “Our team has been good at that. We’ve been pretty resilient. Over the course of the year, a lot of stuff has happened, a lot of change has happened. We’ve kind of been able to weather the storm, but today it kind of got out of hand.
“You never want to hear your home quarterback booed when he goes in. You’ve got to ignore the crowd noise they always say. He did all right. He went in there and bounced back and made some plays.”
Neither Campbell (14-of-22 for 124 yards) nor Weeden was effective against the Steelers. Weeden threw Cleveland’s only touchdown pass in the fourth quarter — a 1-yard connection to Gordon — but it came with the game well out of reach and after he tried to force a throw to Cameron that was picked off by Gay and returned for a TD that put Pittsburgh in front 27-3.
With Campbell likely unavailable in any capacity, the Browns are expected to add another quarterback to the roster to back up Weeden.
“We’ll talk about that (today) and just evaluate Jason and see where he is,” Chudzinski said. “It’s a possibility.
“Anytime your quarterback goes down, it’s tough, but that’s part of football. That’s when the next guy has to step in and be able to go and operate. We’ll get Brandon ready to play this week and start this game.”
Weeden is looking forward to yet another chance.
“It’s going to be good getting some reps in practice and getting to throw to the guys I’m going to be throwing to and doing some plays within our offense,” he said. “I haven’t been able to do that the last few weeks.
“That’s always a challenge, but it will be nice to get out there. Hopefully Jason comes back sooner than later.”