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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- As a former hockey writer, I used to tell fans in Columbus the Browns and Blue Jackets were the same franchise.

Each has one playoff appearance since 1999 – the Blue Jackets were birthed a year later. Each had drafted poorly, had the misfortune of playing in arguably their league’s toughest division and saw their team patriarch die and control turned over to a son.

The Blue Jackets and Browns shared one other sad trait: They rarely had quality players at the two most impactful positions in all major pro sports – goaltender and quarterback. Steve Mason gave the Blue Jackets one remarkable season (2008-09) in his rookie year before devolving into Derek Anderson on skates.

All these thoughts rushed back Sunday night driving home from the Browns’ 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium. It’s amazing what competent quarterback play does to an entire team. Jason Campbell threw three touchdown passes, avoided a turnover, converted two fourth downs and led a 6:30 field-goal drive at game’s end to demoralize the Ravens. You can find all that information in the box score.

Here’s what the stat lines don’t reveal: Campbell’s performance also made coach Rob Chudzinski look smarter, emboldened defensive coordinator Ray Horton to play the aggressive game he prefers and infused the lineup with confidence.

You can make the argument starting pitchers have the same effect on a baseball game, but it’s a rotation, not a single player. You can say an NBA superstar has a similar influence, but the position can vary.

The performance of a goaltender and quarterback bleeds into every facet – offense, defense, special teams.

Brandon Weeden’s poor outings did not just hinder the offense. He was a human restrictor plate for the entire team. The constant three-and-outs were a drag on the defense. They increased the need for big returns. They also changed the way coaches schemed.

After losses to Detroit and Green Bay, Horton acknowledged he called a different game because “the biggest responsibility of a defense is to keep the game close.” The Browns couldn't take many risks for fear of falling too far behind. In an age of offense, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said the Browns weren't built to rally from 14-point deficits.    

Since the Browns benched Weeden two weeks ago and Campbell found his rhythm in the second half at Kansas City, the Browns defense has recorded 10 sacks, allowed 21 points and surrendered a total of 328 yards.

The defense’s best three games -- Minnesota, Cincinnati and Baltimore -- have come with either Brian Hoyer or Campbell at quarterback. It’s not a conscious thing, but defenses are more aggressive when they know their offense can score points or at least extend drives. It’s a synergy that was lacking with Weeden.

The Browns are gaining trust and confidence in Campbell. So when the Ravens hit on the 46-yard pass play to Torrey Smith late in the second quarter that led to a touchdown cutting the Browns' advantage to 14-10, there wasn’t a sense of dread.
“We knew what type of quarterback he was,” nose tackle Phil Taylor said of Campbell. “They didn’t bring him in here for no reason. We knew he can win games.”
Campbell validated that belief at winning time on Sunday. He hit Greg Little with a 46-yard pass early in the fourth on a third-and-10 at their own 20. The drive didn’t produce points, but it gave the defense time to compose itself after the Ravens had scored on the previous possession.
The quarterback was brilliant on the final 15-play series that included a fourth-down conversion on a pass to Davone Bess and a cheeky 14-yard flip to Chris Ogbonnaya.

Is Campbell or Hoyer the long-term answer at quarterback? That’s to be determined, but what we know is the Browns are a pretty good team when they’re getting decent play from the most important position. With this young defense, it’s not hard to imagine the Browns’ potential if they get the right quarterback.
As a postscript, the Blue Jackets came within two points of a playoff berth last season because goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky gave an offensively challenged team a chance to win every night.
Belief is a powerful tool. It doesn’t show up in a box score, but as Campbell drove the Browns on that final series Sunday night to end an 11-game losing streak to the Ravens, many in the stadium grabbed hold of it.