Lessons in crunch-time game management: Takeaways from Chargers’ win over Browns

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler breaks free from the tackle attempt by Cleveland Browns free safety John Johnson.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler breaks free from the tackle attempt by Cleveland Browns free safety John Johnson during the fourth quarter of a 47-42 win Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers beat the Cleveland Browns 47-42 Sunday at SoFi Stadium in a game that featured absolutely everything, plus a little more.

Here are some takeaways from the game:


Hitting the brakes in crunch time

The Chargers celebrate following a touchdown run by Austin Ekeler in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers celebrate following a touchdown run by Austin Ekeler in the fourth quarter of a 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers have won twice in three weeks by scoring late touchdowns when they would have benefited more from not scoring and killing valuable time.


At Kansas City in Week 3, Justin Herbert checked out of a running play and passed to Mike Williams for a four-yard score with 32 seconds remaining.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi explained later that he probably should have been more clear with Herbert about running the ball to prevent the Chiefs from getting a last shot on offense.

In this game, Austin Ekeler was dragged into the end zone by several Browns defenders with 1:31 to go when the play called for him to go down short of the goal line.

Cleveland was out of timeouts and the idea was for the Chargers to end the game with ball and, presumably, a short, game-deciding field goal attempt.

Austin Ekeler was hoping to kill time on the clock when he was forced into scoring a go-ahead touchdown in a 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

Oct. 10, 2021


“I certainly did not want to go in on that one,” coach Brandon Staley said. “We were planning to finish [with] the ball without any time left.”

The Chargers could have had Herbert take a knee instead of handing off the ball, especially if the plan was to not score a touchdown. That would have prevented the Browns from carrying Ekeler across the goal line.

As it turned out, the Chargers got away with scoring too soon both times by surviving last-second Hail Mary passes that fell incomplete.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how they handle the situation if it arises again.

“That’s something that we have to talk about and continue to develop,” Herbert said. “So we can be better on that in the future.”


Rush defense gets trampled

Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers did nothing to prevent the NFL’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense from retaining that title. The Browns ran for 230 yards in 35 carries. Nick Chubb had 161 yards in 21 tries.

“I’m not pleased with how it went today,” Staley said. “I didn’t think we played or coached well enough. What we got to do is tell the truth about what’s happening.”

The Chargers held Las Vegas to 48 yards on the ground in Week 4. In their other four games, they’ve given up an average of 185 yards. They entered Sunday ranked 29th in rushing defense.

Bold play-calling by Chargers coach Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was key to the Chargers’ victory over the Browns.

Oct. 10, 2021

The performances Sunday and during a Week 2 home loss to Dallas — the Cowboys had 198 rushing yards — have been the Chargers’ two worst to date.


“This is the second time we’ve given up far too many [yards],” Staley said. “What happens is that has a real adverse affect on the team because it limits possessions for your offense. We just have to play better and we got to coach it better, for sure. And we will because we have the right type of guys in there.”

Up next for the Chargers: Baltimore and elusive quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Ravens, as of Sunday night, ranked fourth in the league in rushing offense.


Rookie learns some lessons

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb runs for a touchdown past diving Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb runs for a touchdown past diving Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in the second half.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. had a shaky afternoon and had to be removed from the game in favor of Tevaughn Campbell.

“We just needed to calm him down out there,” Staley said. “Asante just had a couple moments there in the first quarter where we needed to keep his head on straight.”


Samuel gave up a 42-yard completion to Donovan Peoples-Jones when he attempted to come over Peoples-Jones to make a play on the ball.

He also looked to be part the confusion that led to the Browns’ first touchdown. Chris Harris Jr. immediately went to Samuel for a discussion after Rashard Higgins was left uncovered on a seven-yard scoring pass.

“It happens sometimes,” Staley said. “He still played well. But it’s just something that young players go through. I mean, he’s been fantastic for us. He’s going to continue to be, but we just wanted him to settle down.”


Rashawn Slater stands out again

Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, right, blocks Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett during the second half.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The Chargers’ other top rookie — Rashawn Slater — continued to impress even when he was called for a false-start penalty and gave up a sack.

Ekeler said the young left tackle, despite facing Myles Garrett and a stout front seven, asked his teammates to stop giving him help.


“Rashawn’s a beast,” Ekeler said. “He actually didn’t want us to chip because it was like helping them. We were bumping guys off of him. He’s like, ‘Just don’t even chip.’ I was like, ‘You got it, boss.’ He’s special.”


Kicker questions

Chargers kicker Tristan Vizcaino kicks an extra point against the Las Vegas Raiders on Oct. 4.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Tristan Vizcaino continued his recent struggles, missing two more extra points. The rookie has missed four extra points for the season. He’s six of seven on field goals.

“We’re going to have to deal with some of this,” Staley said. “He’s a young kicker in the league.”

Vizcaino beat out incumbent Michael Badgley in the preseason. He had one game of NFL experience coming into 2021.


“As a kicker, he needs to be in a lot of those situations to make sure that he gets his rhythm and timing,” Staley said. “We missed two today and that was disappointing. But we need him to bounce back.

“He’s a talented guy. He’s just like a lot of young players in the league. You have to stay patient because he’s good enough. If he wasn’t good enough, then it would be a totally different story.”


Concern at right guard

Chargers offensive guard Oday Aboushi blocks in front of quarterback Justin Herbert against the Raiders on Oct. 4.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The Chargers lost Oday Aboushi to a knee injury in the first quarter and he did not return. The NFL Network reported that Aboushi might have torn a ligament, an injury that likely would end his season.

Veteran Michael Schofield III replaced Aboushi and figures to now take over the starting job.