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5 Observations: Chargers make Browns pay with big plays

SAN DIEGO -- We're fresh out of the locker room and headed back to Cleveland after Sunday's heartbreaking, 30-27 loss to the Chargers.

Here's what stood out most in the back-and-forth game at Qualcomm Stadium.

1. Chargers' other guys make big plays to hurt Browns D

Earlier in the week, Mike Pettine identified San Diego's trio of wide receivers -- Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd and Stevie Johnson -- as the best set the team had seen this season and possibly one of the best it'd see all year.

As the Browns look back on the moments that ultimately hurt their chances of scoring a big win on the road, it'll be Danny Woodhead, Dontrelle Inman and Ladarius Green who highlight the plays that doomed them in Sunday's second half.

On the possession following Cleveland's go-ahead field goal early in the third quarter, Philip Rivers dumped off a short pass to Woodhead, who saw green grass with minimal brown and orange ahead of him. He sprinted 61 yards for the big play that was promptly followed by a 19-yard touchdown catch by Green.

When the Browns drew within a point early in the fourth quarter, San Diego struck for an even bigger play on third-and-5. A blitz cleared the way for Rivers to throw a short pass to Inman, who ran until he was stopped at the 1-yard line by a sprinting Barkevious Mingo for a 68-yard gain. The Chargers went into the end zone two plays later.

After the Browns tied the score with a little more than 2 minutes to play, Rivers and the Chargers got rolling on their game-winning drive with a 17-yard pass to Green. Woodhead's 19-yard run on a draw put the Chargers comfortably into field-goal range.

For the game, Woodhead had a combined 12 touches for 138 yards. Green, who was questionable throughout the week with an injury, had four receptions for 53 yards. Inman's big catch was his third and he finished with 88 yards.

As for Allen, Johnson and Floyd? Johnson and Floyd left the game with injuries and the trio accounted for nine catches, 124 yards and a touchdown.

San Diego finished with 438 yards of offense. More than 43 percent of those yards came on five plays.

2. Breakout day for Duke Johnson

Just a few days ago, running back Duke Johnson Jr. assured reporters he was just fine after a slow start to his rookie season.

On Sunday, he proved that and more in a breakout performance that unfortunately came in a losing effort.

Johnson started at running back, but he made his presence felt as a pass-catcher, hauling in nine catches for 85 yards and his first career touchdown. He had seven catches and 82 yards in the first half alone, as he put the Browns ahead, 10-7, with a nifty, over-the-shoulders, 34-yard touchdown pass that ended with him dragging both of his feet to ensure the score.

Crowell and Johnson came into game with a combined 45 receiving yards. They had 96 in the first half and 147 for the game thanks largely to a 53-yard catch-and-run highlight from Crowell midway through the third quarter.

3. Penalties an unfortunate theme on the road

The Browns' on-field discipline hasn't been the same on the road as it's been at FirstEnergy Stadium.

For the second of two times this season, Cleveland committed double-digit penalties on the road. The Browns had seven for 50 yards in the first half and finished with 12 for 91 yards. The last one hurt the worst, as Tramon Williams was flagged for being offsides on a Josh Lambo field goal miss that would have sent the game into overtime.

The Browns came into the game ranked 20th in total penalties. That ranking isn't likely to improve after Sunday's performance.

4. Injury report

Veteran wide receiver Brian Hartline had his Sunday short-circuited early when he went down with a rib and thigh injury.

Safety Tashaun Gipson, who nursed a groin injury throughout the week, went down with an ankle injury at the end of Woodhead's 61-yard reception in the third quarter. He did not return, and Jordan Poyer filled his spot.

Johnson went down briefly with an apparent leg injury when McCown was rolled into him, but returned on the same series.

Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden was one of six Browns players who missed the game because of an injury, joining Williams, RB Robert Turbin, LB Scott Solomon, LB Craig Robertson and DL Desmond Bryant.

5. Justin Gilbert makes an impact on kickoff returns

As he showed on a pick-six interception last season, second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert is more than comfortable with the ball in his hands.

With Shaun Draughn active but nursing a back injury, Gilbert stepped in for him on kick returns and made the most of the opportunity.

In the first half, Gilbert returned the opening kick 37 yards and took another for 35. He ran a fourth quarter kick back 38 yards. In Cleveland's first three games, the long was 31 and the average was 25.7.

With Haden out and Williams missing his second consecutive game, Gilbert also saw his most action at defensive back this season. He primarily played in the first half and finished with two tackles.

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