Saturday, December 2, 2017

Not this time

One of the reasons Mike McCoy is the ex-head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers is what happened to his former team 48 weeks ago in Cleveland, the penultimate weekend of the 2016 National Football League season.

The Browns were well on their way to matching the 2008 Detroit Lions for NFL ineptitude last season, having lost their first 14 games, two games shy of becoming just the second NFL team ever to lose all 16 games in a season.

That’s when the Chargers, then headquartered in San Diego, came marching into Cleveland Christmas Eve afternoon, lugging a three-game losing streak. But these were the hapless 0-14 Cleveland Browns. What could go wrong? Time to end the streak.

The Chargers did just about everything right that chilly afternoon except win as the Browns hung on for a 20-17 victory. Quarterback Philip Rivers strafed the Cleveland secondary for 322 yards and the pass rush dropped Cleveland quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Cody Kessler nine times.

But the victory was not achieved without, you guessed it, the inevitable Browns late-game drama. Nothing is easy with this team. The verdict didn’t become official until Josh Lambo’s 45-yard game-tying field goal attempt with no time left on the clock drifted wide right.

It was the Browns’ first victory in 377 days, or since they knocked off the San Francisco 49ers at home Dec. 13, 2015, and the first victory under coach Hue Jackson. It remains the only triumph in Jackson’s 27-game career in Cleveland.

“I was looking around for people to hug,” said offensive tackle Joe Thomas. “There were a few tears in my eyes. I was really happy. There was a genuine feeling of joy. The Christmas spirit was among us, for sure.”

It was as though the weight of the world had been lifted off the team’s shoulders. “Finally getting that win . . . definitely felt amazing,” said Thomas, who will miss this one with a season-ending triceps injury. “You don’t want to say it was like our Super Bowl, but it really was.”

And now, the weight of the world is back on those shoulders 12 games later as the Browns seek that elusive next victory. Up next, those same Chargers this Sunday out in Los Angeles.

It has been 343 days and counting since that last Cleveland victory and you can bet the Chargers have been reminded all week long of that embarrassing Christmas visit to Ohio a year ago.

The Browns tote two more losing streaks into this one besides their current 12-gamer. They have lost 29 straight games on Sunday and their last 18 in a row on the road (not counting the London game).  They also have won just four of their last 48 games.

The Chargers, who stumbled out of the gate with four straight losses, have been hot recently, winning five of their last seven games, creeping quietly into conversations with regard to the postseason.

Rivers has been especially sharp over the last three games, connecting on 67% of his passes and throwing for 930 yards and seven touchdowns. In his last outing against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Eve, he was 27-of-33 for 434 yards and three scores.

One can only imagine how much fun he’ll have with a Cleveland secondary that gives up 225 yards a game. The only saving grace would be a strong pass rush, which could prove difficult against a Chargers offensive line that has surrendered only 12 sacks.

It will be interesting to see which side of the football shows up for the Browns Sunday. Will it be the offense that has staggered most of the season but occasionally clicks as it did last Sunday in Cincinnati? Or the defense, which has been much more consistent, igniting a stink bomb every now and then?

The Chargers, it would appear, will be ready either way. Rivers, who has thrown for 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions and is nearing 3,000 yards on the season, loves to throw to Keenan Allen, who checks in with 67 receptions, 927 yards and four scores.

As for the tight ends, a position that has flummoxed the Cleveland secondary all season, Hunter Henry (31 catches, 429 yards, three TDs) and veteran Antonio Gates (16, 147, one) will be Rivers’ main targets.

The ground game is handled mostly by Melvin Gordon, who has run for 700 yards and five TDs and caught 38 passes for 273 yards and four more touchdowns. Rookie free agent running back Austin Ekeler has become a weapon lately with four scores in the last five games on just 46 touches.

This one marks the return of Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon to the NFL wars almost thee years after his last NFL game (Dec. 21, 2014 at Carolina). He will face a defense that has produced 10 turnovers in the last three games and a secondary that has pilfered 14 passes with free safety Tre Boston and cornerback Casey Hayward sharing the team lead with four each.

The Los Angeles pass rush has dropped opposing quarterbacks 32 times this season with defensive ends Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Chris McCain accounting for 24 of those sacks. Bosa leads the pack with 10½.

Where the Chargers are most vulnerable is against the run, allowing 134 yards a game. Only problem there is Jackson is more partial to the passing game, especially with Gordon back in uniform, and might be inclined ignore the ground game and turn quarterback DeShone Kizer loose.

The Chargers can also beat you with their special teams. Former Brown Travis Benjamin, who has caught three touchdown passes, has returned one punt for a touchdown and rookie cornerback Desmond King has returned a kickoff for six points.

It all adds up to what most likely will be a long afternoon for the Browns. Retribution for last season’s embarrassment is only part of what the Browns can expect.

New coach Anthony Lynn’s Chargers have become a very good football team since their miserable start. That’s what the Browns will face Sunday in the tiny StubHub Center, which seats only 27,000 fans. They will witness a blowout. Make it:

Chargers 38, Browns 10


  1. Predicting a Browns' loss isn't all that difficult anymore. We've all become pseudo-experts in that field.

  2. You're taking all the fun out of it.