After being deactivated last week against the Houston Texans following three straight games with a fumble, New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley will play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
Ridley, the team's leading rusher, has struggled with fumbles throughout his career (he's lost four this season), and the team turned to Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden in his absence last week.
Bolden was inactive for Sunday's game against the Browns.
After fumbling on the team's opening drive in a Week 12 victory against the Denver Broncos, Ridley was sent to the bench and has not played since. Ball security concerns during his rookie season in 2011 led to Ridley being deactivated in the AFC Championship Game and then not playing a single offensive snap in the Super Bowl that season.
What remains unclear is how big of a role Ridley will play Sunday. He politely declined to speak to reporters throughout the week, though Vereen gave Ridley a vote of confidence.
"Stevan is a great player," Vereen said. "We're there when he needs us. But he knows what he has to do and we fully expect him to do that."
In 10 games played this season, Ridley has 135 rushes for 576 yards and seven rushing touchdowns, all team highs.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter contributed to this report.
Bryant needed the procedure because of an irregular heartbeat.
The Browns placed Bryant on the reserve/non-football illness list Tuesday, ending his season. He is expected to make a full recovery and play next season.
Bryant signed a five-year, $34 million contract with the Browns in the offseason. He finishes the season with 3½ sacks and 45 tackles. He also has a team-best 32 "harassments," a stat the Browns use that combines quarterback hits and pressures.
Bryant, 27, had problems with an irregular heartbeat while with the Oakland Raiders last season, and this season he left an Oct. 3 game against Buffalo with shortness of breath.
Doctors tried to treat the condition with medication, but Bryant needed the procedure.
His life touched many, including some of the Cleveland Browns from afar.
Here is a sampling of reaction:
Quarterback Jason Campbell: “He’s a guy that all of us have admired, especially what he had to go through. He never gave up and just kept pressing on. That’s one thing you take from a guy like him. No matter how rough some patches look or how dim things look, you have to keep pressing on.”
Tight end Jordan Cameron: “He did so much for South Africa and the world. I send prayers to his family. It’s a tremendous loss.”
Wide receiver Davone Bess: “He’s an icon. A guy I’ve absolutely always admired just because of what he stood for. He was a positive guy who wanted to make a difference and did it the right way.”
Safety T.J. Ward: “Oh man ... we lost an icon. He’s done so much for humanity, period, not just blacks. The suffering he had to go through, the sacrifices. We lost a great man. This should open a lot of people’s eyes that if you don’t know much about him it should make you interested to learn what he did, not just for South Africa but for the entire world. The man is an icon. And a hero.”
It was enough for the team to make Campbell the starter for Sunday's game in New England against the Patriots.
That's where the Browns are at the quarterback position, ready to send up fireworks when a guy who struggled his last two games after splitting his previous two was back on the field. Campbell's return does mean the Browns don't have to face Bill Belichick's defense with completely untested Alex Tanney or relatively untested Caleb Hanie.
Which is something.
Campbell spoke to the media for the first time since he was hit in the head by William Gay of the Steelers in the Browns' Nov. 24 loss to Pittsburgh. He said the hit to the head caused the injury, but he did not think the play was dirty.
"He was coming in trying to hit me, and I think when I saw him at the last minute I kind of ducked down a little bit and that's when he hit me right across the face," Campbell said. "I don't think it was a dirty hit. I don't think he was trying to do it. It was just right in the middle of the action of the play."
Campbell said his symptoms included dizziness, being light-headed and an inability to look at glaring lights.
"I was quarantined for a little bit," he said.
The Auburn product was able to watch the school's win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. He said he felt by Wednesday that he was confident he would play.
"[It's] probably the best I've felt since I had a chance to play," Campbell said.
He also admitted his injured ribs sent him to the sidelines in the Pittsburgh loss, and that he was in significant pain in the loss to Cincinnati.
The team said the ribs were not broken, so what was wrong?
"Just hurting," Campbell said.
The week of practice had the Browns scratching their heads and wondering if they would be facing the Patriots with one hand tied behind their back.
Campbell said he couldn't even try to do anything until he was symptom free, and that didn't happen until Monday.
But in a big way the Browns really only have themselves to thank for it.
It was the Browns, after all, who put Colt McCoy back into the game with a concussion after James Harrison's vicious and late hit in Pittsburgh in 2011.
Campbell was cleared to play and was a full participant in practice. He had been limited on Thursday. He suffered a concussion Nov. 24 during a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It was tough to sit out," Campbell said. "I thought it was important to get back playing, but at the same time there's life after football, so I wanted to make sure that part was handled correctly before I got back on the field."
Chudzinski said the Browns will decide on the backup when the coaching staff meets Friday and would announce the decision on game day.
"Whatever happens during the game, we have to be ready for," Chudzinski said. "That's part of this league."
“Those are the kind of drives, if you will, that cement or help build that legacy, that ability to be mentioned as a good, top defense,” Horton said.
Horton lamented an offside on Paul Kruger that he said negated a potential sack and fumble -- an odd statement given the play continued after the offside and Henne threw an interception.
It all happened after Josh Gordon's electrifying 95-yard touchdown catch that had given the Browns a 28-25 lead with 3:55 left.
“For us not to seal the deal was very disappointing,” Horton said. “I think everyone was highly, highly disappointed.”
A week earlier Horton had rattled off a slew of stats to bolster his claim that the Browns' defense was laying the foundation for winning.
He admitted a defense that doesn't stop that drive cannot be considered elite.
“That's how you make a name, a reputation in this league,” he said, “of big-time players making big-time plays in big-time games. I would hope most of our guys would hope to be in that situation.
“I know I did. I had wanted it to be kind of like when we had talked about the halftime of the Kansas City game being maybe an epiphany of how good we can be.”
The Chiefs loss seemed to be a turning point for the defense -- but Jacksonville's 32 points were the most given up by the Browns this season. And the league's 32nd-ranked offense scored those points. It was the fourth time in the last seven games the Browns had 31 or more points scored on them.
Critics would blame the offense for turnovers, as if the offense stays on the field after a turnover to play defense as well. Horton said that his mantra is for the defense to get off the field, that it doesn't matter how the opposing team gets the ball.
To Horton, turnovers should not be an excuse.
But he pointed out -- yes, this is the return of the HOSH (HOrton Stats Highlights) -- that if the Browns had given up just four fewer red zone touchdowns this season, they'd be ranked 12th. If it were five fewer, they'd be ninth.
As it stands, the Browns are 30th, allowing teams to score 64.7 percent of the time they are in the red zone.
“It's awful,” Horton said. “I'm used to being one or two the past two years. Is it awful? It's hideous to me. But how far away from average, which we don't want to be? We're four stops from average. We're five away from No. 9.”
Fifty percent is average, he said.
“I understand there's two areas that need to be fixed. I believe we fixed one of them, the third down,” he said.
Horton said the third-down percentage is fixed even though the Browns rank 28th in the league (41.6 percent). But at the bye, the Browns were 31st (46.4 percent). In the past four games -- three losses -- the defense has held opponents to 22-for-64 (34.3 percent) on third-down conversions.
Of course Jacksonville was 2-for-2 on third down on the game-winning drive, including on the game-winning touchdown.
Horton, though, refuses to think negatively. He focuses on improvement.
“That's why I wouldn't say the glass is half empty,” he said. “I think it's not gloom and doom. That's why I use the Sisyphus thing. It's not an uphill battle where the rock's going to come back and pound us on the head all the time. I don't see it that way.”
Which is his right, as a coach and as an American.
Thing is, Sisyphus had nothing on Browns fans.
So perhaps Ray Horton’s adoration of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady should be taken with a grain of salt.
Or perhaps it shouldn’t.
“I believe he’s the greatest draft pick in the history of football,” Horton, the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator, said. “I might go so far as to say he may be the greatest player that’s ever played. That’s not just because we’re playing him.
“That’s my belief.”
“The things he’s overcome, his will, his heart, his preparation for the game, I don’t know if there’s a better player in the history of the game than Tom Brady,” Horton said.
Brady was a sixth-round draft pick, someone every team in the league passed on several times before New England chose him in 2000 -- after the Browns had taken Spergon Wynn.
Horton’s challenge now is drawing up a way to defend Brady.
“You’ve got to give him different looks,” Horton said. “You’ve got to pressure him. You have to play at your best because I’m pretty sure he’s going to prepare; he won’t take any game, an opponent lightly.
“It’s an ultimate test for me as a coordinator, this one player. I think he’s everything you want in a franchise quarterback.”
But in this, his first season as the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator, Turner has dealt with a lot of unusual situations.
He’s used a different word each week for some element of the Browns' offense.
He’s discussed the run game as something that needs to be managed, and said the situation with the backs he has has been different.
Now he’s talking about not knowing the Browns quarterback with a game three days away.
“It’s a challenge,” Turner said.
That’s one word for it.
If Jason Campbell does not recover in time for Sunday’s game, the Browns appear headed to starting either Alex Tanney or Caleb Hanie, neither of whom have been with the team two weeks.
Either way the Browns could be making their fifth quarterback change this season, and perhaps starting their fourth different quarterback.
“There’s a lot of firsts for us this year,” Turner said.
Which kind of sums up the season. The last time the Browns went through four quarterbacks in a season was 2008, when Ken Dorsey played the final three games and Bruce Gradkowski was brought in off the street to start the finale. Gradkowski’s rating in that game: 2.8.
Now Turner works with the Tanney-Hanie combination.
“It’s a challenge,” Turner said. “But it’s not as hard on the coaches as it is on the players.”
Because players have to adjust to different throwing styles, different cadences, different feels from different passers.
If Campbell is back, there is at least some familiarity.
But if he isn’t, well ...
That process will take place in the next day or two.
Teammates had said last week that Campbell was doing well, but coming back from a concussion brings a lot of uncertainty. The Browns hoped Campbell might practice Wednesday; he was deemed not ready.
Having him back Thursday is a help, but the team will not say how much Campbell did in practice until it releases the injury report, usually around 4 p.m. ET.
“He is cleared to practice, and that’s the next step,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “I’m not a doctor, but he’s been real sharp in the meetings and seems to be doing well. Obviously the doctors have to confirm that, and then we’ll see how he is.”
The one thing that seems clear is that Brandon Weeden will not play in New England. Weeden has yet to be cleared to practice.
The process the NFL uses in bringing folks back from concussions was partly of their own making. They put Colt McCoy back in a game in Pittsburgh after he had taken a vicious late hit to the jaw from linebacker James Harrison.
That contributed to the league strengthening testing to ensure nobody returned too early.
The Browns no doubt would welcome Campbell on the field in New England, but it is pretty much out of their hands.
However, he must be cleared by an independent neurologist before he can play in a game after suffering a concussion against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 24. The Browns visit the New England Patriots this week.
Campbell will get some reps at practice Thursday, along with the other quarterbacks, and if he's cleared in time and coaches feel good about his situation from a game-plan standpoint, he would start Sunday.
"He still has not and will not pass the independent neurologist test until we see how he does today," Coach Rob Chudzinski said. "In the next 24-to-48 hours, obviously we would have more information on that. But he would need to pass that before he would be cleared to play in the game."
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Campbell has been "real sharp" in the team's meetings.
"Just getting him back in the walkthrough, I think everyone felt a sense of relief in that there was some continuity. Now we're gonna work all three guys and make sure we've covered all the bases in terms of getting ready," he said.