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3 Big Takeaways: Poor decisions, lack of execution in 4th quarter cost Browns

The Browns wasted several late-game opportunities to take a lead against the Chargers


A 30-28 loss to the Chargers on Sunday carried a similar and painful script for the Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Browns held a lead in the fourth quarter and couldn't hold it. They've lost fourth-quarter leads in all three of their losses this season, and it happened as a result of avoidable mistakes and poor execution in critical moments. 

The game also carried a similar feel to last season's meeting with the Chargers. Cleveland also blew a fourth-quarter lead in that game, which featured more yards and more points from both sides, but the Browns weren't ultimately able to stay ahead of a high-powered Chargers offense. 

That loss was the first of eight they endured in their final 13 games.

Cleveland is hoping to avoid a similar spell after another loss to Los Angeles, but the results Sunday suggest the Browns have plenty of work ahead to get back on a consistent track.

We're starting off our takeaways with what they arguably need to clean up most.

1. Lack of execution, poor decisions late cost Browns

A costly fourth-quarter interception and failure to capitalize on a big fourth-down stop from the defense were what separated the Browns from a win.

The interception was arguably the most frustrating point of the game, and it happened with 2:44 left when the Browns trailed by two and followed a drive that had been brilliantly built by QB Jacoby Brissett. Cleveland drove to Los Angeles' 9-yard line thanks to some timely throws and an impressive 20-yard scramble from Brissett, but his attempt to hit WR Amari Cooper in the end zone when he rolled to his right in the pocket turned into the Browns' worst case scenario.

Safety Alohi Gilman intercepted the pass, thwarting the Browns a chance to score go-ahead points. Brissett tried to squeeze the pass through traffic in a situation where an incompletion would've likely just yielded a chip-shot field goal from Cade York. 

The Browns drove 73 yards on 12 plays and had no points to show for it.

"We talk about this all of the time — it's just bad decisions late and late throughout the play, and just making good decisions," Brissett said. "That was a poor decision by myself. Yes, I saw Amari coming. I know I'm better than that, and I just made a bad decision."

York still had a chance to win the game for the Browns, who got the ball back thanks to a risky decision by Chargers head coach Brandon Staley to go for it on fourth-and-1 from Los Angeles' 46-yard line. Rookie CB M.J. Emerson Jr. broke up a pass attempt to Chargers WR Mike Williams, which gave the Browns prime field position to at least attempt a field goal if they could advance the ball.

They didn't. Instead, Brissett threw three straight incompletions, although the Browns were still within kicking distance of York, who became an instant star in Cleveland in Week 1 after hitting a game-winning 58-yard field goal. The spotlight was on him again to kick another game-winner with 11 seconds left. 

York gave the ball plenty of power from 54-yards away, but the kick sailed just right of the uprights.

"I hit it well," York said. "My head was still down, and I thought it was going to be dead straight, right down the middle. I looked up, and it was just outside."

The Browns were oh-so-close to taking the lead on two occasions. The job, however, was never finished, bringing back the same frustrations the Browns had following late-game blunders to the Falcons in Week 4 and Jets in Week 2. The Browns, who entered the fourth quarter with a 28-27 lead, held fourth-quarter leads in those games, too, but didn't do enough to keep it.

"It's really, really hard and frustrating," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We have to figure it out. We have to start playing smarter in certain areas and find ways to get a victory, especially at home (versus an) AFC opponent."

2. A rough day for the run defense

The Browns defense never controlled the Chargers' rushing weapons at any point of the game.

RB Austin Ekeler stacked the best rushing performance of his six-year career against the Browns with a career-high 173 rushing yards and one touchdown. He broke free for a 71-yard dash in the first quarter and also had a 22-yard run where he danced around defenders at the line of scrimmage and broke a couple tackles to cross the goal line.

The Chargers entered Week 5 averaging 64.5 rushing yards per game, which ranked last in the league. They compiled 238 rushing yards Sunday, their highest all season and most since Week 6 in 2018.

How does that happen? Browns players listed a few reasons, none of which served as any sort of excuse.

"It's misalignments and not being where you're supposed to be," DE Myles Garrett said. "Usually, that wouldn't cost us, but they were able to take advantage of some of those times where we weren't where we're supposed to be."

In addition to missed assignments, the Browns also succumbed to several missed tackle attempts and overall poor technique in tackling Ekeler and his backup, Joshua Kelley, who ran 10 times for 49 yards with one touchdown.

"It's just being on your feet and not lunging, especially with a guy like (Ekeler) who's short and powerful and definitely has bigger pads. I felt like we were diving into him, and he's a guy that's already loaded. It's just about slowing our opponents a little bit closer. Ekeler is a good running back. He showed it today. We definitely have to clean it up."

3. Confidence for Cade

Week 5 was the roughest performance yet for York — the fourth-round rookie missed the 54-yard field goal that could've won the game, and he also missed a 45-yard kick on the final drive of the first half.

Both kicks missed to the right of the uprights on the west end of the stadium.

"That was my first time ever missing twice in a game," York said. "It wasn't like I went out there telling myself I missed the one before. I hit it hard and strong, but just barely missed it."

York nailed all eight of his previous field goal attempts before Sunday, and his lone blemishes were missed extra-point attempts in Weeks 2 and 3.

Despite the poor outing Sunday, York still has all the confidence from his coach.

"With a young player, you kind of just focus on getting better each day," Stefanski said. "Not losing confidence in him. He's not losing confidence in himself. Not an easy place to kick in. We will be counting on him next week and the week after that."

G Joel Bitonio said the Browns still have ample trust in him, too. One game won't change anything.

"There's going to be times where he's relied upon again," he said. "It's a tough place to kick, and we have faith in him that he'll get it done when he gets another chance."

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