Against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Campbell survived a brutal first quarter (two three-and-outs), righted himself and the team in the second and gave the Browns just what they hoped for in the fourth: a chance to win.
“I can still play the game,” Campbell said with a smile after the Browns had come close to an upset of the unbeaten Chiefs before losing 23-17.
“We can win with Jason,” said defensive lineman Phil Taylor.
The Browns are the living embodiment of a sort of theory of relativity, meaning that a quarterback’s play is relative to the other guys the Browns played this season. Campbell didn’t provide the spark of Brian Hoyer, but he did offer a much better feel for the game than Brandon Weeden, the guy Campbell replaced.
Campbell felt the rush, avoided it and finished with 293 yards and a passer rating of 105.4. He completed 22 of 36 passes, threw for two touchdowns, with no interceptions, and perhaps most important had the ball four times in the second half with the Browns down only three.
A guy who played poorly a year ago in his only start with Chicago, and who last held a starting job in 2011 with Oakland, played an efficient game — and as effective a game as a guy can play and lose.
“From the time the game started until the game ended, as far as what we were trying to do offensively, none of that was a problem,” Campbell said.
Campbell did this against a relentless pass rush and an excellent defense. He was sacked just once, and that didn’t happen until the fourth quarter.
“He played a tremendous game,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “He didn’t turn the ball over and he looked poised.”
Again, it’s relative. The flip side of the argument would be that Campbell and the Browns had those four chances in the second half and didn’t come through. But after trailing 13-0 early in the second quarter and 20-10 at halftime, Campbell found Fozzy Whittaker on the opening drive of the second half to cut the deficit to 20-17.
“You got to weather the storm,” Campbell said. “You can’t get impatient.”
The Browns last chances began with 3:55 remaining. Campbell and the Browns took over at the their 16-yard line, and he converted on a third-and-9 to move them to the 28. A holding penalty on Joe Thomas on second down put the offense in a bad spot, but on fourth down Campbell again gave the Browns a chance, rolling right and spotting Davone Bess near the first-down marker.
But Bess dropped the pass, ending a tough day for him that included three drops and a fumble.
Though it didn’t work out, the moment was not too big for Campbell. Which is a lot more than could be said about the Browns' quarterbacks the previous two weeks.
“Truth be told,” he said, “it’s kind of exciting. Everybody’s into it and the stadium’s going crazy and you can win the game in those crucial moments.”
The cynical view would be that Campbell proved he’s the same guy who started the game with a 31-40 record as a starter, a guy who can play a little but not win. But the relative view says that Campbell was giant strides better than Weeden.
“Jason has faith in me,” receiver Josh Gordon said. “And I have faith in him.”
If the Browns take nothing else from this game, they at least found reason to believe in their quarterback, something they could not do the last two weeks.
“The team we have now,” Jackson said, “we can win with this team.”