Browns quick hits: Chargers' Justin Herbert picks apart Cleveland defense; Baker Mayfield, offense falter late

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Browns had their three-game winning streak snapped in a wild shootout against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

The Browns fell 47-42 after quarterback Baker Mayfield's Hail Mary pass fell incomplete in the end zone with five seconds left to play.

The Browns dropped to 3-2, and the Chargers improved to 4-1.

How crazy was the nail-biter?

The Browns became the first team in NFL history to lose when scoring more than 40 points and gaining at least 500 yards without committing a turnover, according to the Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN Stats & Info.

The Chargers would have tied the score 42-42 with 3:15 left in the fourth quarter, but Tristan Vizcaino missed his second extra point of the game after running back Austin Ekeler's 19-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. Vizcaino's miss wide left allowed the Browns to stay ahead 42-41.

Instead of seizing the moment, the Browns went three-and-out. On third-and-9 from the Cleveland 15-yard line, coach Kevin Stefanski called a draw, and running back Kareem Hunt picked up only 3 yards.

After a punt, the Chargers took over on the Browns 48 with 2:02 left. A 29-yard pass from Herbert to tight end Jared Cook, who was wide open in the left flat, moved the Chargers to the Browns 19.

The Chargers went ahead 47-42 with 1:31 left in the fourth quarter when the Browns actually wanted them to score to keep a chance of winning alive. The Browns defense, led by safety John Johnson III, basically dragged Ekeler into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) carries against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. [Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press]

Then Ekeler rushed on a 2-point attempt. After the try was originally ruled successful, the call was overturned with a replay review determining Ekeler was down before the ball broke the plane of the goal line.

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The Browns got the ball back at their 25 with 1:31 remaining and no timeouts left. They advanced to their 46-yard line, where Mayfield launched his desperation pass into the end zone in the waning moments. Tight end David Njoku and wide receivers Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones were in the vicinity of the ball, but the pass fell incomplete.

After the game, Mayfield said the Browns thought the officials missed two pass interference calls on the Chargers during a play on the offense's previous possession.

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb, left, scores a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. [Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press]

The Browns captured a 42-35 lead when Hunt rushed for an 8-yard touchdown off the right side, capping a five-play, 75-yard drive with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter. Running back Nick Chubb had a 24-yard run two plays before Hunt's score.

The Chargers had tied the score 35-35 on the previous possession with Ekeler's 4-yard rushing touchdown with 7:24 left in the fourth quarter. The Chargers converted two fourth downs during the drive — one on a 33-yard pass interference penalty called on cornerback A.J. Green against receiver Mike Williams and the other on a 20-yard pass from Herbert to receiver Keenan Allen.

The Browns disagreed with the pass interference penalty on Green, and All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett said it was a "terrible" call in his postgame news conference.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to throw as Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (42) chases during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. [Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press]

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield gets off to a hot start but can't finish with clutch score

Mayfield went 23-of-32 passing (71.9%) for 305 yards and two touchdowns without an interception for a rating of 122.5. In the first half, Mayfield went 11-of-14 passing for 155 yards and a touchdown for a rating of 136.6.

But in the end, the Browns needed one more scoring drive, and they didn't get it.

Mayfield entered the game hoping to rebound from an abysmal outing in last week's 14-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings. He posted a completion percentage of 45.5 and a passer rating of 59.5 in what he described as a “piss-poor performance” in Minneapolis.

Mayfield has been playing through a partially torn labrum since his left, non-throwing shoulder popped out and back in Sept. 19 against the Houston Texans.

Cleveland Browns defense surrenders two touchdowns to Mike Williams with blown coverage

The Browns defense had dominant performances in their previous two games, a 26-6 win over the Chicago Bears and the victory over the Vikings. It was the first time the Browns had held consecutive opponents to single-digit points since 1995.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, left, celebrates his touchdown throw to wide receiver Mike Williams (81) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. [Gregory Bull/Associated Press]

But the secondary had major issues against the Chargers. Two blown coverages resulted in Williams being left wide open for touchdowns of 72 and 42 yards.

The second one for 42 yards left Johnson throwing his hands up in frustration and allowed the Chargers to go ahead 28-27 with 11:22 left in the fourth quarter, their first lead since early in the second quarter when Williams caught the 72-yard touchdown.

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) runs past Los Angeles Chargers free safety Derwin James (33) after a catch during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. [Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press]

The Browns had a haymaker up their sleeves, though. On the next series, Njoku grabbed a pass from Mayfield and scored a 71-yard touchdown on a catch-and-run. Mayfield's underhand two-point throw to Hooper gave the Browns a 35-28 advantage with 10:40 left in the fourth quarter.

Nick Chubb begins second half with highlight play for Cleveland Browns

The Browns opened the third quarter in ideal fashion.

On second-and-4 from the Chargers 48, Chubb stepped away from a diving defender and stiff-armed two others on his way to a 52-yard rushing touchdown. The score capped a five-play, 75-yard drive, and the Browns went ahead 27-13 with 12:18 remaining in the third quarter.

Herbert kept fighting back. On the next series, he scrambled for a 9-yard touchdown, then connected with tight end Donald Parham Jr. for two points. The Chargers sliced the Browns' lead to 27-21 with 6:25 left in the third quarter with the 14-play, 84-yard drive.

Coach Kevin Stefanski stays aggressive and Cleveland Browns capture 20-13 halftime lead vs. Los Angeles Chargers

The Browns found another gear late in the first half, scoring 10 points in the final minute of the second quarter to seize a 20-13 advantage at halftime.

Trailing 13-10, Stefanski continued to be aggressive. Instead of settling for a short field goal and a tied score, Stefanski went for it on fourth-and-1, and Hunt rushed for a 3-yard touchdown off the lead block of fullback Andy Janovich. The 11-play, 53-yard drive allowed the Browns to go ahead 17-13 with 54 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Denzel Ward injury:Browns CB out against Chargers with neck injury

Stefanski's choice to go for it stood out particularly because a similar gamble had backfired on the Browns' previous possession.

On fourth-and-2 at the Chargers 17, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dropped a short pass from Mayfield with 8:12 left in the second quarter. Beckham would have had the first down if had he held onto the ball. However, the drop gave the Chargers a turnover on downs and Mayfield his first incomplete pass of the game. The Chargers, though, went three-and-out with defensive tackle Malik McDowell sacking Herbert on third-and-10 from the Los Angeles 17. McDowell was shaken up afterward due to a rib injury.

But McDowell returned to the game after Hunt's 3-yard touchdown, and he recovered Ekeler's fumble on a screen at the Chargers 22 with 38 seconds left in the second quarter. Cornerback Greedy Williams stripped Ekeler of the ball, though safety Grant Delpit was credited with the forced fumble in the official statistics. Delpit hit Ekeler after Greedy Williams had dislodged the ball.

The Browns turned the takeaway into three points in the form of a 31-yard field goal by McLaughlin as time expired in the first half.

Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers engage in back-and-forth battle

McLaughlin made a 35-yard field goal to give the Browns a 3-0 lead with 7:39 left in the first quarter. Cleveland's opening possession could have ended in a worse way because safety Derwin James Jr. strip-sacked Mayfield in the red zone. James beat Njoku on the play, but at least Njoku recovered the fumble, allowing the Browns to score two plays later.

The Chargers countered with a 10-play, 85-yard scoring drive and took a 7-3 lead when Herbert connected with Parham for a 22-yard touchdown with 2:44 remaining in the first quarter. Parham was wide open when he caught the TD pass at the 20 two plays after nickelback Troy Hill had been penalized for illegal contact on third-and-8 from the Browns 30, giving the Chargers a first down.

The two teams traded touchdowns on the next two series.

The Browns went ahead 10-7 with 12:46 left in the second quarter when Higgins was left uncovered on an out route and caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield with 12:46 left in the second quarter.

Facing third-and-10, Herbert launched a 72-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, and the Chargers went ahead 13-10 with 11:43 remaining in the second quarter. Delpit and Green were not on the same page in coverage and let Williams run free deep.

Green played most of the game because starting cornerback Denzel Ward left in the first quarter with a neck injury and never returned. On Friday, the Browns had listed Ward as questionable to play in the game because of the neck injury.

In the fourth quarter, Greedy Williams (right shoulder) and safety M.J. Stewart (right hamstring) left the game and didn't return.

Cleveland Browns dealt with key changes to both lines

Speaking of injuries, there were major lineup changes for the Browns on their lines.

Takk McKinley started at defensive end in place of three-time Pro Bowl selection Jadeveon Clowney. Both players had entered the weekend listed as questionable to play, but Clowney's elbow injury held him out while McKinley pushed through ankle and knee issues just like All-Pro end Myles Garrett did.

Blake Hance made his first regular-season NFL start, filling in for injured left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who had been downgraded to out Saturday with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 1 and has since repeatedly aggravated.

Then early in the fourth quarter, starting right tackle Jack Conklin left the game for good with a knee injury. Rookie fourth-round draft pick James Hudson III filled in for Conklin.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at