The Cleveland Browns had a tall task at hand yesterday, as they squared off against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Browns offense went right to work, as they handed the ball off to running back Nick Chubb who ignited the spark to get their offense moving. The Chargers defense utilized blitz packages on passing plays to pressure Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to make him make a mistake and turn the ball over. Baker scrambled to his right and made an off-balance throw to his tight end David Njoku for a big gain. Shortly after, the Chargers hit Mayfield as he was in the process of releasing the ball and caused a fumble which was recovered by Cleveland. It was poor pass protection as David Njoku missed his blocking assignment which caused Mayfield to get hit from behind. The drive resulted in a 35- yard field goal by kicker Chase McLaughlin to give the Browns a 3-0 lead. Los Angeles moved down the field quickly and seemed unstoppable in part because Los Angeles got their running back Austin Eckler involved in the running and passing game. On a second and seven play, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert sold the play-action fake scrambled out to his right to find tight end Donald Parham who was wide open and found his way into the end zone to put the Chargers up, 7-3. The Browns then targeted Njoku for a big gain who charged down the sideline and was knocked out of bounds in Chargers territory. Cleveland kept pushing the ball down the field, though at the end of the quarter the Chargers still were in control with a 7-3 lead.
Cleveland wasted little time, as Baker Mayfield connected on a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rashard Higgins, which then pushed the lead to 10-7 in favor of the Browns. Justin Herbert made it difficult for the Browns wounded defense, as he rushed for a first down with ease and then had all day to throw, as he launched a deep ball down the field for a 72-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Williams.
Williams looked like Usain Bolt, as he blew past a defender with ease. The Chargers took the lead, to make the score 13-10 as Chargers kicker Tristan Vizcaino missed the extra point. The Browns were gaining momentum on their drive, with Baker Mayfield peppering a pass to wide receiver Donovan-Peoples-Jones near the right sideline. Head coach Kevin Stefanski decided to go for it on a fourth and two play, Baker threw a slant pass to receiver Odell Beckham Jr who had the ball in his hands but dropped it as he took his eyes off the ball to look up the field. This was a costly drop as it could have completely changed the game.
The Browns defense picked up the slack, as on a third down and 10 play, Browns defensive tackle Malik McDowell plowed his way through two offensive linemen and delivered a crushing hit to Justin Herbert. Less than a minute to go before halftime on a fourth down, Baker handed the ball off to running back Kareem Hunt who found his way into the end zone as his offensive linemen were the equivalent of a wrecking ball crashing through a big building. The Browns had a 17-13 advantage but there was still some time left for the Chargers. Luckily, the Browns created a turnover by delivering a hard hit to running back Austin Eckler which caused him to fumble the ball. Cleveland cashed in on the opportunity for three points due to a 31-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin, which gave the Browns a 20-13 lead at halftime.
Cleveland was dominant out of the gate, in part to Nick Chubb who was racking up the yards. On a second and four play, Chubb shuffled to his right while dodging defenders, stiff-armed two defenders who dropped to the ground and motored his way into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown run. The Cleveland defense could not solve the Chargers offense as the Chargers ran any play they desired and there was no answer to fix it. The Chargers felt extremely confident as they decided to go for it on a fourth and seven play and Herbert threw a pass to his reliable receiver in Keenan Allen who hauled it in which kept the drive alive. The drive finished as Herbert rushed for an easy touchdown, as he made it across the goal line untouched. The Chargers then went for the two-point conversion and were successful, to trim the Browns lead to 27-21.
Nothing is more frustrating than when a team has a good rhythm and then a play gets called back due to a penalty, which is what happened to the Browns towards the end of the third quarter. Thus, the Browns came up empty and had to punt the ball. It was not until the 12-minute mark that Justin Herbert continued to dominate the game as he threw an easy pass to Mike Williams for a 42-yard touchdown pass. This put the Chargers back on top with a 28-27 lead over the Browns. Baker Mayfield persevered, as he delivered a missile to a leaping David Njoku who shed a tackle and scored a touchdown. Knowing that this was an offensive-sided affair, Cleveland went for the two-point conversion and was successful as Mayfield tossed the ball underhand to tight end, Austin Hooper. That made the score 35-28 in favor of the Browns, though the Chargers were cruising down the field and scored as the Chargers were in the shotgun formation, Herbert handed the ball to Austin Eckler who scampered his way in for six, which made it a tie ball game. Kareem Hunt was not done yet, as he scored another rushing touchdown. Hunt ran to his right and with great concentration and awareness tiptoed his way into the end zone to push the lead to 42-35 Browns.
Justin Herbert continued his dominance as he shifted to his right and made an off-balanced throw which was caught by Keenan Allen who made a spectacular catch before landing out of bounds. Herbert continued to expose the Browns defense by slinging passes all over the field. On a play-action pass, Herbert flipped a pass to Austin Eckler who ran to the end zone to put the Chargers within an extra point of tying the game again. The Chargers’ superb blocking is what led to that touchdown pass, as a few linemen were pushing back defenders. The extra point was wide right which put the Chargers in potential danger of losing the game. Cleveland was unable to muster much of a drive late in the game, which gave Herbert and the Chargers enough time to win the game. Austin Eckler made a smart and swift decision, as he could have scored a touchdown but slid down in bounds at the two-yard line. The very next play, Eckler was handed the ball again and was stuffed by the defensive line of the Browns and tried to fall to the ground to keep the clock going, but the Browns defense was pushing Eckler to try to bring him down but instead had pushed him into the end zone for a touchdown to take the lead. Baker Mayfield had one last drive to win the game, as he had to move in, out, up, and down the pocket and air out passes. Unfortunately, the Browns did not get a good enough opportunity to find an open player down the field.
This game will hurt for a few days for the Browns, as they played with plenty of heart and pride as they had several key players injured. Their defense had hurt them, as Justin Herbert threw for 398 passing yards and had four touchdown passes. Wide receiver Mike Williams torched the secondary, as he had eight receptions for 165 yards and caught two touchdown passes. The defense has to go back to the drawing board at practice this week, as they have plenty to work on and correct. It was the defense who let this team down this week. Baker Mayfield cannot be blamed as he did his part by throwing for 305 yards and two touchdown passes. Other players that stepped up on the offensive side of the ball were Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt who combined for three touchdowns. Tight end David Njoku had himself a solid game as he had seven receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown pass, and second-year player Donovan Peoples-Jones recorded five receptions for 70 yards. Cleveland has their work cut out for them, as they will return home next weekend to face the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.