Chargers’ crazy decision doesn’t cost win as Browns miss kick

There were 908 total yards, 53 first downs and five lead changes.

There was also a big decision, one that remains part of what Brandon Staley is about — even if his Chargers’ failures are valuable fuel for his howling critics.

With Sunday’s game up for grabs, Staley opted for a first down on a late fourth-down play near midfield. When Justin Herbert’s pass fell incomplete, Cleveland was given a golden finishing chance.

Though that game went awry, the day ended right for the visitors when Browns kicker Cade York missed a 54-yard field goal attempt in the dying seconds, allowing the Chargers to escape 30-28.

“We believe in our process,” Staley said afterwards. “We believe in our players on both sides. We came here on the street to win this game. Don’t kick and then hope to win.

As a rookie head coach last season, Staley earned a reputation for his aggressive fourth-down selections, many of which contributed to wins while others notoriously exploded, most notably in two prime-time showcases.

Just a week ago, in a one-score game in Houston, Staley scored a fourth and a second from the Chargers’ 45-yard line, the conversion resulting in a late touchdown to seal the win.

On Sunday, the Chargers had fourth place by 1:14 and one on their 46. Staley could have gone for a punt and forced Cleveland deep into his territory with no timeouts left.

Instead, he decided to keep the ball in Herbert’s hands and the Chargers called for a pass to Mike Williams, knowing a first down would allow them to kneel the rest of the clock.

Cleveland cornerback Denzel Ward, a two-time Pro Bowl player, was out of the game with a concussion. The Browns had rookie cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. on Williams.

“Twenty-three on 81,” Staley said, using the players’ jersey numbers. “We liked it.”

The Chargers' Chargers Mike Williams (81) makes one of his 10 catches against Denzel Ward (21) and the Browns.

The Chargers’ Chargers Mike Williams (81) makes one of his 10 catches against Denzel Ward (21) and the Browns. He finished with 134 yards receiving.

(Ron Schwane/Associated Press)

Williams broke the line of scrimmage at an angle, but Emerson jumped in and stopped him. As the two ran towards each other, the ball was deflected and landed on the grass.

“We felt like they couldn’t stop us from the outside,” Williams said. “He went in straight away. I had nowhere to go. He just guessed right. They had a pretty good reputation for that piece.”

Staley stated, as he has repeatedly done during his 22 games as the Chargers head coach, that he wants to finish on his team’s terms and believes his decision 100%.

As for the fourth-down models that predict potential outcomes, two of the most prominent — ESPN and Ben Baldwin — spoke out in favor. Next Gen Stats had the choice closer to 50/50.

“The storybook would have been just ending it right there and going down the road to victory,” Staley said. “But that’s not how it went. We had to play defense. We had to defend ourselves and our defense won the game in the end.”

With no timeouts and forced to throw on a day when the Browns would rush for 213 yards, Jacoby Brissett completed one of four passes for 10 yards. Cleveland attempted a run, Kareem Hunt was stopped by safety Derwin James Jr. without a win.

That left York with a 54-yard attempt amid the FirstEnergy Stadium winds.

While Staley crouched on the touchline and peered down the field over his game sheet, York’s kick drifted just to the right of the post.

“I believed our defense would be stopped if we didn’t make it because I knew we could cover them,” Staley said. “You have to live with it if it doesn’t go down.”

Chargers cornerback Michael Davis, 43, celebrates as Browns kicker Cade York watches his field goal attempt sail wide.

Chargers cornerback Michael Davis, 43, celebrates as Browns kicker Cade York watches as his last-second field goal attempt sails wide.

(Ron Schwane/AP)

The Chargers lived with it and won on Sunday, thanks largely to an offense that last entered the league when it ran the ball before breaking out for 238 rushing yards, 173 of which belonged to Austin Ekeler.

Staley then presented a cue ball to the offensive line, specifically citing right tackle Trey Pipkins III, who fought his way back into the game after being eliminated with a leg injury.

“Our O-line came alive today,” Staley said. “And our runners – disgusts, [Joshua] Kelley – those guys were out there flying, just running with one goal.”

Ekeler scored a touchdown on the ground and another in the air, earning him five points in his last two games. Kelley carried 10 times for 49 yards and also reached the end zone.

The Chargers’ other points came from someone who wasn’t on the team until late last week. Kicker Taylor Bertolet, who replaced the injured Dustin Hopkins and made his NFL debut, had three field goals and three extra points.

He also received a ball.

“Actually, just another football game,” said Bertolet. “It’s getting a little louder. This is the only difference. Well, that and there’s a little more at stake.”

With everything at stake late Sunday, Staley stood by his belief that the Chargers would survive, even if the ending wasn’t a picture book. Chargers’ crazy decision doesn’t cost win as Browns miss kick

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