Browns' Kevin Stefanski refuses to second-guess play call on crucial third-and-3 failure

Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski would not second-guess the play-calling of offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, especially a third-and-3 run by Nick Chubb that was stopped for no gain with two minutes remaining in Monday’s 16-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium.

With Stefanski unavailable after testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Van Pelt assumed Stefanski’s role of play-caller. Van Pelt is a former Buffalo Bills quarterback in his 26th season in the league, his 17th as an assistant coach.

With three offensive linemen in new positions, the Browns’ running game was erratic, although Chubb picked 77 of his 91 yards in the second half. The Browns were also without their top two quarterbacks with Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum among 22 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, with Nick Mullens making his first start as a Brown.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) meets with Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, center, and Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

The Browns were trying to protect a 14-13 lead when they took over at their own 23 with 2:47 to go following an interception by cornerback Greedy Williams. Chubb twice went over left tackle, manned by four-time Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio, and picked up 2 and 5 yards, repeating what had worked best after halftime. On third and 3 from the Cleveland 30, Chubb tried right tackle, held down by Blake Hance, and was stopped for no gain by a crowd of Raiders led by nose tackle Johnathan Hankins and linebacker Divine Deablo.

Quarterback Derek Carr drove the Raiders 41 yards to Daniel Carlson’s 48-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.

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Stefanski would not get into whether he would have called three Chubb runs in that situation.

“AVP is a pro. He has done it before. I have total, total, total faith in him when he is in there doing it,” Stefanski said.

Asked what happened on third and 3, Stefanski said, “Ultimately, just did not get it done. The hope is that you put the ball in Nick’s hands and our offense to find four yards. It did not happen. Obviously, frustrating.”

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Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was the acting coach in Stefanski’s absence. Asked if there was a collaboration among the staff about the final series, Stefanski said, “We call that four-minute when you have the ball and you are trying to get first downs and keep the clock rolling. We did talk through four-minute drives and how we want to attack them.

“During the game, the conversations on the headsets are with a lot of people. Obviously [offensive line coach] Coach [Bill] Callahan factors in with the run game, AVP has a strong voice with what we are doing and all of the coaches have really strong voices. Those impending drives, you talk through it as a staff, and you decide which plays give you the best chance to get yards.”

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The Browns are a run-first team, with Chubb ranked fourth in the league in rushing going into Tuesday's games with 1,017 yards this season.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Chubb recorded his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, the first Brown to achieve that feat since Mike Pruitt in 1979-81.

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) runs for a first down as Las Vegas Raiders defensive back Keisean Nixon (22) reaches for him during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Asked about the balance in sticking with their bread and butter or getting creative, Stefanski said there are “many variables at play.”

“Obviously, Nick being a big variable. You think about matchups at each position you have versus them,” Stefanski said. “To say that you are always going to run it there, that is just not the case. There are always different avenues you can go on those drives, but ultimately, we did not come through.

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“It is frustrating to all of us. I know it is frustrating to the players and to the coaches. We have high expectations on ourselves to come through in big moments, but we did not get it done last night.”

Cleveland Browns kicker Chase McLaughlin (3) and Las Vegas Raiders defensive back Dallin Leavitt (32) watch after McLauglin missed a field goal during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

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Browns kicker Chase McLaughlin’s slump continued against the Raiders, as his 47-yard field goal attempt was wide right as time expired in the first half.

McLaughlin made his first try, but Raiders coach Rich Bisaccia called timeout to ice McLaughlin. It worked as McLaughlin’s attempt that would have cut the Raiders’ lead to 10-3 was also short.

McLaughlin is now 15 for 21 on field goals, 4 for 10 from 40-49 yards, with all of his misses coming since Oct. 21.

McLaughlin, 25, a University of Illinois product, is with his sixth NFL team. Stefanski would not say if the Browns are considering a change at kicker.

“I am not going to get into any roster-type things like that,” Stefanski said. “Chase understands that he has to make those kicks. He puts as much pressure on himself as anybody else. He wants to come through, and we are counting on him.”

Priefer was just as adamant.

“You have to make those kicks. The expectation is to make those type of kicks in that game, and he should have made it,” Priefer said Monday night.

McLaughlin was not as strong as usual on kickoffs, with one touchback out of three against the Raiders.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at Read more about the Browns at Follow her on Twitter at