For all of the back and forth, plays both made and missed as well as some horrific officiating, the game between the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers boiled down to a pair of decisions by head coach Kevin Stefanski.
With a 42-41 lead, the Browns passed on 2nd-and-10, unable to complete a pass to Rashard Higgins, setting up 3rd-and-10. Rather than trusting his quarterback Baker Mayfield to try and make a play to extend the drive, Stefanski opted for a running play in the form of a draw to Kareem Hunt, which fell short and forced them to punt.
Seemingly, Stefanski should have either run it twice to try to get the first down or passed it twice. Passing first and then running was deflating.
The Browns defense, especially the secondary was down multiple players and their punter, Jamie Gillan, was underwhelming on his previous two punts. Gillan's third attempt was just as mediocre as the first two which puts Chargers at midfield.
After the Chargers were able to score a touchdown, failing on the two-point conversation, the Browns got the ball with 1:31 down 47-42, out of timeouts.
The Browns would use 40 seconds on their next three plays combined on three short passes that netted a grand total of 12 yards. Unfortunately, the second one to Hunt was tackled short of the line to gain, setting up 3rd-and-1. Getting a third underneath pass that was tackled in bounds was way too taxing on the clock given the situation.
In fact, only an injury to linebacker Drue Tranquill is the only thing that kept more clock from running.
The Browns were able to convert one more pass to David Njoku, getting them close to midfield with 29 seconds left.
At that point, the Browns proceeded to throw four times in a row with the last amounting to a Hail Mary.
The Browns were on their third and fourth string offensive tackles in Blake Hance at left tackle and James Hudson at right tackle, which may have had an impact in the Browns decision making. Stefansi cited them in his post game press conference as a reason he was concerned. Nevertheless, those key decisions by Stefanski let a lot to be desired and did not put the Browns in the best position to win the game.
They fall 47-42 against a formidable Chargers team, dropping their record to 3-2. The team suffered a number of injuries throughout the game, which is probably the more pressing concern.
None of that changes the fact that Stefanski, who has often been quite good in these situations dating back to last year, was certainly not up to his own standards and has been having some issues in key situations, particularly on fourth down the last few weeks.
The Browns couldn't get off the field on fourth down in a number of situations defensively. They suffered a key drop on 4th-and-2 in the first half. The team was not short on opportunities to win this game, but the bitter taste that comes out of this one will be those last two offensive drives.