Oh. My. God.
Immediately after the game, that’s all one could think. Whether you’re a Browns, Chargers fan or just a neutral observer, that game was absolutely insane. Over 1000 total yards. 89 combined points. Baker Mayfield and Justin Herbert had a stout quarterback duel. Both teams’ running game was on fire. From a pure football perspective, the game was everything you could ask for. A surefire game of the year candidate.
Well, on to the perspective of a Browns fan. Let’s start with the positives, shall we?
Baker had his best game of the year, indisputably. He was incredibly accurate, going 23/32 and most of his incompletions were drops rather than missed throws. He had 305 yards and two scores through the air and added another eight yards on the ground. He moved incredibly well in the pocket, seamlessly sidestepping oncoming pass rushers while scanning the field effortlessly. Mayfield has been underwhelming this year, so it was refreshing to see him execute the way we know he can at his best, especially against a punishing Chargers defense.
Speaking of the punishing Chargers defense, they were largely the ones getting punished. The Browns O-Line absolutely mangled the Chargers’ defensive front, opening running lanes the size of a garage for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to do their thing. The duo had arguably their best game of the year thus far, combining for 222 yards and three touchdowns, holy cow! They added another 37 yards as pass-catchers, but they shined like elite backs on the ground.
TE David Njoku, oh my lord. He’s flashed his athleticism many times. He’s teased us with his natural talent on numerous occasions. Now, it finally seems like he’s putting it all together. He went for a ludicrous 149 yards, most of which came on a clutch 4th quarter catch-and-run, bumping off of a weak tackle attempt on his way to a 71-yard touchdown.
Fun facts about Njoku’s performance on Sunday:
He gained nearly 10% of his total career yardage in that one game.
It was his 1st 100 yard game of his career.
His two career-highs in receiving yards in a single game both came this season (both in losses, oddly enough).
His 149-yard performance is twice as many yards as he’s gained in any other game for his career, excluding the Chiefs game in Week 1 of this season.
His career-high in yards prior to this season also came against the Chargers, in the 2017 season.
For the first time in his career, Njoku registered a 100% catch rate in a game where he was targeted more than 10 times.
Simply put, the Browns offense finally fired on all cylinders. The result? We TORCHED the Chargers’ defense. The problem?
The Chargers also torched our defense. Badly.
The Browns pass rush just could not get to QB Justin Herbert. Giving Herbert a clean pocket is a very, very bad idea. He took full advantage, going for 398 yards, four TDs through the air, added 29 yards and another score with his legs. The run defense held up somewhat well, as the Chargers only managed two runs of 10+ yards. The lack of pass defense in this game can be mostly attributed to missing DE Jadeveon Clowney and CB Denzel Ward for most of the game. But, on to the elephant in the room…
Penalties. Flags, fouls, another F-word which I can’t say; the referees took center stage. We can talk about the holding calls, we can talk about the missed P.I on the last play of the game (although, Pass Interference is rarely called on Hail Marys, so meh.), but I want to talk about perhaps the most wrong call I’ve ever seen in a professional football game.
9:10 on the clock.
Browns lead 35-28 over Chargers.
4th & four.
Stop them, get the ball back with a seven-point lead and the ability to ram the ball down their throats.
They did stop them. Incomplete pass.
And then came the flags.
Defensive Pass Interference. Hm, I’ll bite. Let’s see the replay.
The replay showed absolutely no defensive foul. If anything, it was OPI by Mike Williams. Williams held a handful of jersey as he leaped into the air trying to grab the pass. The funny thing is that he probably would have caught the ball anyway if he didn’t commit blatant P.I.
Obviously, the referees saw different. 1st down Chargers on the Browns 26. Wow.
The refs aren’t 100% to blame for the loss, but man that stings. I don’t like to blame the referees. In my opinion, if you don’t want the referees to decide a game, then put the game out of reach. However, that does not excuse blatant incompetence. All I want is for the NFL to represent a fair game, with the better squad coming out on top at the end of the day. Alas, that’s a pipe dream. Referees only seem to be getting worse and at this point, does ANYBODY understand the rules of this game anymore?
Regardless, back to the game. The Browns still had opportunities to stop them. We still had our chances to win the game. Hell, after the godforsaken drive with the phantom P.I. call, we still went down and scored. Then, the Chargers retaliated, yet missed the extra point. 42-41 Browns. Time to put the game away, right? Yeah, sure, have a three-and-out.
Next up, I got a doozy for you. Instead of playing tough goal line defense, let’s not just allow, but literally force in the Chargers’ game-winning touchdown.
We trusted our offense to drive down the field with 1:31 left, which is understandable given our effectiveness on Sunday. What did we get in return? a whopping eight play, 21 yard drive which ended with an unsuccessful prayer to the end zone. The entire game was a windup for a mammoth punch to the gut. Just absolutely astounding.
All things considered, from the referee incompetence, to the offensive domination until it actually mattered and allowing 26 points in the 4th quarter, games like that are why Cleveland is referred to as the Factory of Sadness. That sure was the most Browns loss in a while.
Alas, it’s in the past. Our two losses this year came against the class of the NFL and by a combined nine points. The Browns are a darn good football team, no way around it. Who knows, maybe Cleveland gets their revenge in January?
We return home next week to face another red-hot team, the Cardinals. If the Browns play like they did this Sunday, they could mark a statement victory and cement themselves as serious contenders. Even in heartbreaking defeat, there’s a lot to be excited about.