A wild, back-and-forth offensive spectacle in Los Angeles ended with the Browns a touchdown short of their fourth straight win.
The Chargers and Browns combined for sixth touchdowns in the final 15 minutes, and Los Angeles had the final two in one of the NFL's most entertaining games thus far in the 2021 season. Baker Mayfield's Hail Mary attempt on fourth down with 14 seconds to play fell incomplete, and that was the only moment either side could know it was officially over, as the Chargers prevailed, 47-42, at SoFi Stadium.
The loss snapped the Browns' three-game winning streak and dropped their record to 3-2 on the season. The Chargers moved to 4-1 with their third straight win.
"We didn't come through there in a couple spots," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I'm sure there are 1,000 reasons why. We've got to make sure that we make the corrections from this game and then move on."
The Browns and Chargers combined for 1,025 yards of offense, 12 touchdowns and 52 first downs in a game that saw both teams break off big plays through the air and on the ground. Los Angeles, though, was the more effective unit in the second half, as it scored touchdowns on five of its final six possessions to continually come back and ultimately put away the Browns.
The Browns came into Sunday's game having allowed just 34 points in their previous three games. Sunday was a completely different kind of afternoon.
"It's hard to explain," S John Johnson III said. "Those plays are plays we make in our sleep just from guys being there. It's not like it was 50-50 balls. It was busts, complete busts."
Mayfield finished 23-of-35 for 305 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which went 71 yards to David Njoku and staked the Browns to a 35-28 lead with 10:40 to play.
The game was just far from over.
Check out photos of the Browns against the Chargers in week five
Nick Chubb (161) and Kareem Hunt (61) combined for 222 yards and three touchdowns, the last of which came with 4:45 to play and put the Browns back on top, 42-35.
The game was just far from over.
Both Browns scores were promptly answered by Chargers touchdowns, as second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, who finished with 398 yards and five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing), led the way on each possession. His 19-yard touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler seemingly evened up the score again with 3:15 to play, but the Chargers missed the extra point and the Browns held the lead, 42-41.
An ill-timed three-and-out, though, gave the ball right back to Los Angeles, which scored a few plays later when Ekeler was pushed into the end zone by Browns defenders in order to give Cleveland's offense one more shot with 1:31 to play.
"Early on in the game, besides that long ball, I felt like we were on top of everything and didn't give up much and thought we were in good position to dominate that game," Johnson said. "It's kind of like he didn't go anywhere, stuck in there, he hung in there and made a lot of big throws and made more plays than we did."
Without any timeouts, the Browns picked up a first down on their last-gasp drive but burned too much clock. Mayfield had no choice but to launch multiple shots at the end zone, and they all fell incomplete to seal the loss.
"We didn't make enough plays to win the game, and that goes for everybody on the team," Mayfield said. "We left too many points on the board in the first half. I don't think it would have been the same outcome with needing a touchdown to tie the ballgame up late in the game if we had done that early on. Just got to do our job. We haven't played a complementary football game yet."
Njoku posted the best game by a Browns tight end in years, finishing with seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. Donovan Peoples-Jones added five catches for 70 yards.
The Chargers were led by big efforts from Williams (eight catches, 165 yards, two touchdowns), Keenan Allen (six catches, 75 yards) and Ekeler (119 yards of offense, three touchdowns).
After a Week 4 performance in which they struggled to just a single touchdown and two field goals, the Browns came out cooking on offense, moving the ball effectively on the ground with Chubb and Hunt and through the air with accurate throws from Mayfield.
The Browns took an early lead with a Chase McLaughlin field goal and found the end zone for the first time early in the second quarter, when Mayfield found Rashard Higgins on a 7-yard touchdown — the first of the season by a Browns wide receiver — to put the Browns ahead, 10-7.
The Chargers struck right back when Herbert found Williams on a 72-yard touchdown pass with 11:43 left in the half, but the Browns maintained their composure and controlled possession for the rest of the quarter.
Hunt's 3-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 capped an 11-play, 53-yard drive that took 6 minutes off the clock. The Browns got the ball right back when Malik McDowell recovered an Ekeler fumble, and the offense turned it into three more points on a McLaughlin field goal that sent the Browns to the locker room with a 20-13 advantage.
There was just so much game left, and the Browns couldn't get back on top when the clock ran out for good.
"We've got to find ways to get stops," Stefanski said. "We have been doing that as a defense but we didn't do it today. You've just got to be ready for whatever game it is."