In a crazy back-and-forth game, including one where it seemed like the Chargers kept converting fourth down after fourth down in desperation to stay in the game, Los Angeles ended up defeating Cleveland by a final score of 47-42. The Browns had key injuries hit them in the secondary and at right tackle, but couldn’t pull it off in the end. The two plays Browns fans will hate the most are a late pass interference penalty called by the officials, and Stefanski’s call to run it on 3rd-and-10 prior to the Chargers’ final score.
The Chargers got the ball first, and on a day without the services of DE Jadeveon Clowney, the defense forced a quick three-and-out, keyed by a third-down pass breakup by S Ronnie Harrison. Cleveland’s opening drive featured two big runs by RB Nick Chubb and two completions to TE David Njoku to get the team into field goal range. Njoku missed a block, though, which led to a safety getting a blindside hit on QB Baker Mayfield and forcing a fumble. Cleveland recovered, but they had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by K Chase McLaughlin for the early 3-0 lead.
The Chargers were more crisp on their second drive of the game, including an 18-yard screen pass to RB Austin Ekeler. The defense appeared to forced a fourth down in field goal range, but an illegal contact penalty was called on CB Troy Hill. A couple plays later, TE Donald Parham released late from blocking and caught a pass in the flat, marching virtually untouched for a 22-yard touchdown to give the Chargers a 7-3 lead.
Njoku’s hot day continued with a 31-yard tight end release at the line of scrimmage, with all the yards coming after the catch. Cleveland rolled down toward the red zone again, but it looked like another negative play (a run stopped for a 5 yard loss) might stall the drive again. On 3rd-and-10, though, TE Austin Hooper beat his man and the defender committed pass interference, putting the ball at the 8 yard line. Two plays later, Mayfield rolled to his right and found WR Rashard Higgins wide open for a touchdown to put the Browns back on top 10-7.
Cleveland’s defense forced two incompletions on their next drive to set up a 3rd-and-10. On third down, Herbert found a breakdown in Cleveland’s quarters coverage as S Grant Delpit went to the sideline instead of the middle of the field, vacating the spot for WR Mike Williams and a 72-yard touchdown. The Chargers missed the extra point, but still held the lead at 13-10.
The Browns’ next drive started with a big response, as Mayfield found WR Donovan Peoples-Jones down the right sideline for a 42-yard catch-and-run. After a couple of short completions, the Browns faced a 4th-and-2 at the 17 yard line. A field goal would tie it, but head coach Kevin Stefanski opted to go for it. Mayfield’s first read to Hunt in the flat was covered, but then he went to WR Odell Beckham crossing over the middle. The throw was right there...but he dropped it for a turnover on downs. It was Mayfield’s first incompletion of the game, and it looked like Beckham would’ve had room to run after the catch too.
The defense responded well this time, forcing their second three-and-out of the game. DT Malik McDowell wrapped up Herbert for a 10-yard sack on third down, all the way back to the 7 yard line. Unfortunately, McDowell appeared to hurt himself on the celebration following the sack. After the punt, the Browns took at their own 47 yard line.
McDowell & MG for the TAKEDOWN ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/eE4ZIlZVb7— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) October 10, 2021
More tough running by the Browns’ backs had them driving again, but Mayfield himself escaped pressure from two defenders, including the diving reach of DE Joey Bosa, to set up a manageable third down situation. A few plays later, Mayfield found Higgins between the Cover-2 coverage for a 16 yard pass. An 8-yard run by Chubb set Cleveland up with a 2nd-and-2 from the 4 yard line heading into the two-minute warning.
After two run plays, Cleveland only gained a yard and faced 4th-and-1 from the 3. They lined up to go for it and did the hard count before calling a timeout. After the timeout, they still lined up to go for it, giving the handoff to Hunt. Behind the block of FB Andy Janovich, Hunt punched it in from 3 yards out to give the Browns a 17-13 lead with 0:54 left in the half.
Herbert threw a screen pass to Ekeler to begin the next drive, and Deplit punched it out with McDowell recovering at the 22 yard line! With better clock management, the Browns could’ve had some better or more shots at the end zone. Instead, they went to the locker room with a timeout still in their pocket, but McLaughlin added a 31-yard field goal to extend the lead to 20-13.
After a couple completions to Peoples-Jones to start the second half, Chubb took a handoff to the right side, made a defender miss in the hole, stiff armed two more to the ground, and they raced up the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown! The highlight-reel play put the Browns up 27-13 with 12:18 to go in the third quarter.
The Browns’ defense continued tackling well, forcing what looked to be a three-and-out on the Chargers’ next drive. Seeing the threat of the Browns’ offense, though, the Chargers went for it on 4th-and-2 despite being backed up deep in their own territory. They converted with a handoff to move the chains, and then a 14-yard rush by a running back moved the ball beyond midfield.
A pass interference penalty on Harrison allowed the drive to extend after another third down. Then facing a 4th-and-7 from the 22 yard line, they went for it again, and Herbert completed the pass to WR Keenan Allen for a first down to the 10 yard line. On 2nd-and-goal from the 9, the defense lost contain on Herbert and he ran up and to the left for a touchdown to make it a 27-19 game. Continuing to show respect for the Browns’ offense, they went for two, and converted to Parham to make it a 27-21 game with 6:25 remaining in the third quarter.
Cleveland finally connected with Beckham for a 13-yard completion on their next drive, but then it stalled after a 10-yard holding penalty on TE Harrison Bryant on a first down play. Cleveland couldn’t dig themselves out of 1st-and-20, and then P Jamie Gillan couldn’t keep his punt inside the 20 as it rolled to the end zone for a touchback.
The Chargers were moving the ball again, but just like one play stalled the Browns’ last drive, the same thing bit Los Angeles when DE Myles Garrett dropped Herbert for a 7-yard sack. The Browns began their opening drive of the fourth quarter at the 32 yard line. And then their drive stalled due to another holding penalty, this time on C JC Tretter. RT Jack Conklin also limped off with an injury during the drive. Mayfield took a deep shot to WR Anthony Schwartz on 3rd-and-20, and while the throw looked pretty good, Schwartz was busy hand-fighting with the defensive back and the pass fell incomplete. Cleveland’s ensuing punt was fair caught at the Chargers’ 39 yard line.
The Chargers capitalized this time. After converting a tough third down pass, Herbert found Williams completely uncovered for the second time of the day due to a miscommunication by the safeties (with Ronnie Harrison or John Johnson III being the culprit). The 42-yard touchdown, plus the extra point, gave the Chargers a 28-27 lead with 11:22 remaining in the game.
After two stalled drives, the Browns’ offense responded in a major way. It started with a 7 yard completion to Beckham, and then on second down, Mayfield fired the pass to Njoku over the middle, who stiff armed his defender to the ground and took off for a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown to put Cleveland back up 33-28! The Browns went for two, and Mayfield underhand flipped a pass in the middle to Hooper for the conversion.
The Chargers faced another fourth down situation and went for it. Herbert chucked it up the right sideline, but despite both players being handsy with each other, a controversial 33-yard pass interference penalty was called on CB Greedy Williams.
Now at the 24 yard line, the Chargers faced another 4th-and-8. After being 3-of-3 on fourth down conversions, could the Browns’ defense get a stop? Garrett limped off prior to the play with an injury. Herbert converted again, this time a 20-yard completion down to the 4 yard line. One play later, Ekeler dove in for the touchdown to make it 35-34. The Chargers went for the tie, and the extra point was good to knot it up at 35-35 with 7:24 to go.
The Browns started their drive with a 13-yard screen pass to Hunt, and 15 more yards tacked on due to a facemask penalty. Chubb followed that up with a run of 8 yards and then a burst of 24 yards through the line before he was just barely brought down from behind to the 15 yard line. Hunt came in and immediately dragged defenders for a 7 yard gain. Hunt finished it off with an 8-yard touchdown around the right edge! The all-important extra point gave the Browns a 42-35 lead with 4:45 left in the game.
Herbert continued to dazzle on his end, completing a 37-yard pass to Allen and then a 21-yard pass after that. Near a goal-to-go situation, a holding penalty on the Chargers pushed things back to a 2nd-and-16 at the 19 yard line. Los Angeles dialed up a screen pass to Ekeler, and it went all the way for a touchdown. With 3:15 to go, the Chargers went for the extra point again and he MISSED it again, preserving the Browns’ lead at 42-41.
The Chargers still had all three timeouts, so the Browns desperately needed to move the chains. The first-down run by Hunt was stopped for only a 1-yard gain. The second down play was an incompletion, and then the Browns went for a very questionable draw play on 3rd-and-9 to punt the ball. After the punt, the Chargers took over at the 48 yard line. On first down, Herbert threw it to TE Jared Cook on a quick hitter. He was wide open and scampered 29 yards to the 19 yard line heading into the two-minute warning.
The Chargers eventually got in range at the 3 yard line and the Browns having burned all three timeouts. Los Angeles only needed to knee it, and Ekeler got the handoff, trying to dance and stop at the 2 yard line. Instead, the Browns’ defense grabbed him and pulled him into the end zone for the touchdown in order to give the offense a chance. The Chargers went for two and were short, making it a 47-42 game with 1:31 left for Mayfield to make magic happen.
Unfortunately, Cleveland took too much time to get to midfield, forcing them to try a Hail Mary. It looked like the Browns actually had a decent shot at it, but the ball fell incomplete after Njoku fell down and Higgins couldn’t get through his body. Ugh. The Browns fall to 3-2, and while the Chargers certainly are a great offense, it feels like this was one Cleveland should’ve won.
- QB Baker Mayfield: 23-of-32 for 306 yards, 2 TD. 2 rushes, 8 yards.
- RB Nick Chubb: 21 carries, 161 yards, 1 TD. 1 catch, 9 yards.
- RB Kareem Hunt: 12 carries, 61 yards, 2 TD. 5 catches, 29 yards.
- TE David Njoku: 6 catches, 139 yards (6 targets). 1 TD.
- The Browns had 532 yards to the Chargers’ 493 yards.
- Cleveland won the time of possession battle 36:28 to 23:32.