Imagine the Browns playing a game without Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Alex Mack, Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin.
That’s essentially what the Chargers were missing on offense Sunday as they started three back-ups on the line, were without Antonio Gates and lost Malcolm Floyd early in the game.
They still managed to beat the Browns 30-27.
The underlying story of the game? Twelve penalties for 91 yards. The Browns were guilty of several breakdowns, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but the mental mistakes continued to pile up and were instrumental in San Diego’s success on Sunday.
On four San Diego scoring drives (two touchdowns and two field goals) the Browns committed a penalty that gave the Chargers a first down.
2:00 Second Quarter: Chargers 3rd and 3 on CLE 45
With the game tied at 10, Phillip Rivers took the Chargers downfield with the help of a defensive holding penalty, and then facing a third down Rivers made a veteran play and drew the Browns offsides. First down San Diego. John Hughes was the Brown who jumped on this particular play.
The Chargers only gained 13 yards the rest of the drive and kicked a 45-yard field goal to take a 3-point lead. The Browns were able to respond with a field goal of their own before the half, but instead of being up 3, they were tied.
:02 Fourth Quarter: Chargers 4th and 2 on CLE 16
Clearly the most costly of the penalties came at the end of the game when Tramon Williams jumped offsides on the missed field goal.
Let’s be clear about something. With two minutes to go in the game, Phillip Rivers drives into field goal range on most teams in the NFL. The part of the equation that is typical Browns is that Lambo missed the field goal but the Browns gave him another shot.
Tramon Williams had the best game of any member of the Browns secondary, and possibly the whole defense. He has been the most consistent member of the secondary throughout the season. Hard to really blame him for trying to make a game-winning play.
There were other things aside from penalties that killed the Browns on Sunday. Short passes turned into long gains way too often.
2:03 First Quarter: Chargers 3rd and 8 on CLE 39
Rivers hits Ladarius Green on a crossing pattern for 9 yards and a first down. The Chargers score a touchdown on the possession.
5:16 Third Quarter: Chargers 2nd and 9 on SD 20
Rivers completes a middle screen to Danny Woodhead who scampers 61 yards to the Browns 19. The Chargers score a touchdown on the next play.
9:05 Fourth Quarter: Chargers 3rd and 5 on SD 31
Rivers throws a crossing route to Dontrelle Inman who beats his man and races 68 yards to set up a first and goal from the one.
After the Browns were flagged for having 12 men on the field, they stuffed Melvin Gordon at the goal line and then Phillip Rivers made the defense look foolish with a play-action pass to the tight end whom the Browns just decided not to cover.
On the sidelines Rivers was laughing about how easy that touchdown pass was. Think he had any doubt that they were going to drive down the field and score to win the game with two minutes left?