SAN DIEGO -- The Browns didn't have the starting defense they envisioned at the beginning of the season on the field Sunday against the Chargers.
A statement like that, an out of sorts for a performance like the one players lamented in the locker room after the 30-27 loss, couldn't have been shot down faster by veteran cornerback Tramon Williams.
"We don't blame anything on injuries," Williams said. "Everyone shows up. You've got to come out and play. That's the way it is."
The Browns -- who were without five of their season-opening starters by the end of Sunday's game, including three in the secondary -- offered no excuses for allowing a slew of big plays to a San Diego offense that was missing three starting offensive linemen and some of its top receivers for spurts of Sunday's game. The 438 yards surrendered – 241 coming on a combined seven plays -- were tough to swallow but the 30 points, the final three of which coming on a drive to ultimately decide the game, were the toughest.
The Browns have allowed an average of 29.3 points in their three losses.
"We've just got to keep working, go back to work and figure out what it is," Williams said. "The communication has been good for the most part. With that kind of quarterback, you can't make mistakes. He'll always find the mistakes."
That quarterback Sunday was veteran Philip Rivers, who initially struggled amid a flurry of pressure from Cleveland's defense. The Chargers went three-and-out on their first two series and gained a total of 3 yards. The Chargers appeared vulnerable early, particularly against the pressure Cleveland brought against their makeshift offensive line.
But Rivers and the Chargers adjusted on the third series, and the Browns struggled to stop San Diego's passing offense from that point forward. One week after Oakland's Derek Carr threw for 314 yards against the Cleveland defense, Rivers had 358. A good chunk of it came on big plays, as Rivers completed passes of 28, 61 and 68 yards on three separate drives that ended in touchdowns.
The Browns run defense was better, allowing fewer than 100 yards for the first time this season, but it was still vulnerable to some big runs, like Melvin Gordon's 23-yarder in the first half and Danny Woodhead's key, 19-yard gain on the final possession.
After Christian Kirksey picked up a sack on the Chargers' second offensive series, the Browns picked up just one more the rest of the way. It came on one of the three other San Diego drives that ended with no points.
"At the end of the day, we've just got to get there," linebacker Paul Kruger said. "It's not something we did well enough. We made too many mistakes and made them at the wrong time. It's a hard deal. We were in that game until it was over. It's just hard because one or two plays got away from us."
Rivers used short drop-backs and quick passes to eliminate Cleveland's chances of applying pressure. They picked up some of their biggest plays on "crossers," coach Mike Pettine said, adding that it was "frustrating" because he thought the players adjusted well but not enough to prevent multiple big plays.
"That's not the easiest passing attack to go up against," Pettine said. "Those guys battled until the end."
Cleveland entered Sunday's game without defensive lineman Desmond Bryant (shoulder), linebacker Scott Solomon (ankle), defensive back K'Waun Williams (concussion) and Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, who broke his finger last week and was deemed unable to play a few hours before Sunday's game. Safety Tashaun Gipson went down with an ankle injury at the end of Woodhead's 61-yard catch, leaving the Browns with an assortment of first- and second-teamers on the field during Sunday's crunch-time moments.
Pettine's response to that kind of adversity? "That's the NFL."
"Guys have to step up and play," Pettine said. "It's the next man up mentality and everybody else in those situations has to elevate their play as well. You have depth on the roster and that's what they're there for. When guys are out, you've got to step up."