Final: Cleveland 20, San Diego 17
Call it a Christmas miracle, perhaps, but the Cleveland Browns erase their names from one of the most embarrassing feats in pro sports by getting off the schnide and grabbing their first win of the season. They did it at home against an injury riddled Charger team, but it was a good win for them nonetheless and there were flashes as to why Browns fans can try to find hope moving forward.
The defense was the main reason why Cleveland won this game. The secondary was not too terrific, but Jamar Taylor was able to make some plays in coverage. Joe Haden, hobbled, was not great and eventually exited the game in the second quarter after getting fried up top by Travis Benjamin on the first play of the game. The real star in the secondary was Truman Williams. He plastered to his receivers and made some nice PBUs. Christian Kirksey, who is the best player on defense next to Jamie Collins, made some plays as well, getting his nose in on nine tackles, six unassisted. Emmanuel Ogbah, who is blossoming into a fine young player, was doing the dirty work and drawing a lot of doubles. The Browns defensively, under Ray Horton, threw the kitchen sink at San Diego. They rolled zones, blitzed, packed the box and did a great job stopping the run. This was the biggest reason why they finally picked up a win is because the “D” held its own and was not just bullied by the opposing running game. Yes, the Chargers were essentially down to their third and fourth string running backs in Kenneth Farrow and Ronnie Hillman, but they had little room to run at all as the Brownies did a nice job clogging the running lanes and tackling. This was their best tackling effort all year.
Offensively, the Browns were not all that good up front. They allowed their starter Robert Griffin III to get battered all game long and he ended up getting knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to a concussion. The Chargers racked up eight sacks on the Browns’ quarterbacks in this game and the Cleveland O-line was flat out bullied for a majority of the game. Luckily they were able to run the ball with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. The line did a nice enough job blocking on those efforts, especially the right side behind Johnathan Cooper and Austin Pasztor. The Browns have been getting blown out a lot lately, but early in the season they were competitive in most of their games. The reason behind this was because they were able to run the ball. They got back to that blueprint and it paid off for them. RGIII used his legs on read options and was able to hit slants off of play actions looking, at times, like he did his rookie season under Kyle Shanahan. Working with Hue Jackson in the future could net some exciting results. Terrelle Pryor was really neutralized by Casey Heyward, but Andrew Hawkins uncovered a bit and was the best receiver for Cleveland. While this offensive output was nothing too impressive, the Browns did have a decent balance to their game and they did not turn the ball over.
The San Diego defense came into this game being the only team in the league who had created a takeaway in every game this year, but that streak came to an end. Cleveland did a good job taking care of the ball and the Chargers really did not come close to forcing an error. The defense, in fact, contributed to the march of the Browns’ offense at times with pass interference penalties. Casey Hayward got off to a rough start against Terrelle Pryor, but he turned his fortunes around and kept him bottled up. Joey Bosa was unblockable on the interior as he bulled his way into a pair of sacks and five tackles, further campaigning for his Defensive Rookie of the Year crown. The best player that San Diego had to offer was Denzel Perryman, although he was dinged up multiple times on the afternoon and had to leave the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. While he was in there, he flew around the field. He made a couple of hard hits and would really slow the ball carriers often, allowing other teammates to make their tackles. Jatavius Brown was the leading tackler for the Bolts with nine.
The Chargers offense was not great. Obviously they had two missed field goals late in the game, which is not something that can be pinned on the “O”, but they did allow the game to get into those situations. On the first play of the game, Philip Rivers heaved the ball down the field to Travis Benjamin for a 50-yard gainer and the drive ended with seven points on an Antonio Gates one yard touchdown. After that drive, San Diego managed only 10 points. Rivers was under heavy pressure all day. He was not officially sacked, but he did get flagged for intentional grounding once and had to throw the ball away on a couple of other occasions. He poorly underthrew a ball in the second quarter to Antonio Gates and it was intercepted by Jamar Taylor. His play was not great but that was a product of the poor protection up front. It was a flat out bad effort by the offensive line. They were not able to make any lanes for Kenneth Farrow and Ronnie Hillman to run through after the first quarter and were very bad in handling the many blitzes that the Browns brought at them. The absence of King Dunlap at left tackle was missed as the Chargers were not able to anchor down Rivers’ blind side.
The hero of the game had to be Jamie Meter who blocked the first of two Josh Lambo field goals in the fourth quarter. He plowed his way past the line and into the lane of the kick and swatted it away. Then, Lambo missed a 45-yarder on a bingo-attempt when the team had to march out the kicking unit in under 15 seconds without a timeout. If those kicks were made, we would possibly be singing a different tune after this one.
So the Browns finally won one. It came at a good time because their probability of picking up that initial “W” in Week 17 on the road in Pittsburgh were not going to be very high. The defense played much better and Cleveland ran the ball and these two things were a huge factor in determining the outcome. For the Chargers, they have fallen a long way ever since dropping that game to the Buccaneers and can blame a lot of it on injuries. However, the offensive line has been a problem for years and it does not look like it is getting any better. This will certainly be an area for them to target in free agency and in the draft. The Bolts will finish up their season at home against the Chiefs in what will likely be the teams last game in San Diego.
- Cleveland was able to run the ball and stop the run, out-gaining the Chargers on the ground 124-34.
- The Browns blitzed a lot in this game, and their coverage on the back end held up pretty well. Their defense did their best work of the season in the tackling department.
- Robert Griffin III was sacked six times in this game and was knocked out with a concussion. Cody Kessler was fine in relief of him, but did not have to do a whole lot with a lead at his disposal.
- Josh Lambo misses two fourth quarter field goals and the Chargers commit 9 penalties for 92 yards and turn it over once, heavily factoring into this ugly loss.
- Antonio Gates ties Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdowns by a tight end all time. He now has 111 in his great career.
- For the first time this season, the Chargers failed to create a turnover in a game as the Browns did a good job protecting the ball and controlling the time of possession.