Browns-Chargers: The Turning Point

Each week, we ask Steve King to identify the key moment that, in retrospect, determined the game's outcome. This time, that moment happened early on, and the Browns never recovered...

With an offense that may be not just the worst they've ever had, but maybe one of the poorest in NFL history, the Browns can't afford to waste any scoring chances, especially ones in key parts of the game.

But that's exactly what they did on Sunday, and it played a big role – it was the play of the game – in their 30-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Trailing just 10-7 after having led 7-0 halfway through the first quarter, the Browns put together maybe their best drive of the day, if not the season. Starting with the last play of the first quarter, they went 79 yards, from their 18 to the San Diego 3, in 15 plays. Using mostly Brady Quinn passes and with a few Jerome Harrison runs mixed in so as to keep the Chargers off-balance in a no-huddle attack, the Browns impressively worked their way down the field.

Harrison also caught two passes for 26 yards on the drive, while tight end Evan Moore, promoted from the practice squad only Saturday, grabbed an 18-yarder. They converted a third-and-1 with a one-yard run by Quinn and a third-and-3 with the quarterback's six-yard strike to wide receiver Chansi Stuckey that set them with a first-and-goal at the 2.

A touchdown would have been great, giving them a 14-10 lead, but even just a chip-shot field goal by Phil Dawson would have tied the score at 10-10.

But Harrison lost a yard on a first-down run, then Quinn threw incomplete to Moore.

Quinn looked for receivers on third down, but when he couldn't find any, he scrambled around to buy himself some time. Eventually he ran to the right, but outside linebacker Shaun Phillips came up from behind and punched the ball out of his hands at the 8. It squirted toward the Cleveland sideline, where a scrum took place, with end Jacques Cesaire finally recovering at the 13.

Browns head coach Eric Mangini finally challenged the ruling on the field once he got to see a replay of it on the stadium video screen, which he should have done since it looked as if either Cesaire might have been out of bounds when he recovered, or the ball might have rolled out of bounds before he got it.

The ruling on the field was confirmed after the play was reviewed, and the Browns were deflated, dejected, frustrated and, for all intents and purposes, finished.

The Chargers didn't score on their ensuing drive, but they did on the last play of the first half when Nate Kaeding drilled a 42-yard field goal.

So instead of being tied at 10-10, the Browns found themselves behind 13-7. They never seriously threatened again when the game was in doubt.

Oh, sure they got going after the Chargers quit playing, thinking the contest was over after they roared to a 27-7 lead late in the third quarter. Cleveland scored 16 points in the final 9:15 to make a game of it and, at the same time, make San Diego sweat a little bit. It was too little, too late, though. The Browns were doing some good things, but this was mop-up time.

And really, all the comeback did was reinforce just how important Quinn's turnover was, for without it, it might have been a different game – at least it would have been a more competitive one for a longer period of time.

It's one thing after the other with this struggling offense. If one player isn't making a mistake, then another one is.

Yes, the defense was terrible for much of the day, giving up 477 yards, but the offense was terrible when it counted the most.

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