The Los Angeles Chargers’ versatility was on full display when the team proved winning from behind was not a tall order behind stellar play from Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler leading the way.
Herbert produced five touchdowns on the day, Ekeler had three scores and the Chargers rallied to overcome a 14-point deficit to beat the Cleveland Browns 47-42 on Sunday afternoon at So-Fi Stadium in a thriller of a game.
The Chargers promising second-year play-caller recorded his 10th career 300-yard game and completed 31 of 41 passes for 338 yards and a rushing touchdown along with his passing scores.
“To win a game like this, one that turns into a track meet, you have to have a superstar quarterback to win it,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said of Herbert. “That’s what he is, he was fantastic in the game. That’s an awesome defense that he’s playing against, that defense is really good … Like I told the team in there, the reason why he’s being able to play how he’s capable of playing is that he has a really good team around him.”
Los Angeles has now won three straight and leads the AFC West with a division best (4-1) record.
Ekeler finished with 119 total yards on 25 touches (66 rushing, 53 receiving), including scoring a three- and a four-yard rushing score, along with catching a 19-yard score all in the fourth.
“Austin’s one of those guys that’s the ultimate competitor,” Staley said. “What you can do is activate him in the passing game and in the running game to give you an advantage depending on how people are playing you. I feel like he showcased both of those things.”
Mike Williams continued with his consistent play while tallying a career-high 165 receiving yards with two touchdowns. Herbert found Donald Parham, Jr. on a 22-yard score in the first quarter, followed by a 72-yard strike to Williams in the second to give the Chargers an early 13-10 lead.
“Early on in his career he was dealing with some injuries, so we didn’t really see that full potential from him,” Ekeler said on Williams’ breakout season through five games. “Now he’s back into the season healthy and is looking good. We’re also using him in the short game, which I love because he has those big tree trunks of [arms] and stiff arms people and gets around the edge.”
Baker Mayfield was 23 of 32 for 306 yards and two touchdowns but admitted his team was unable to make enough winning plays to close the game out.
“We didn’t make enough plays to win the game, and that goes for everybody on our team. We didn’t do that,” said Mayfield “We haven’t played a complementary football game yet.”
Nick Chubb rushed for 161 yards on 21 carries scoring a touchdown, Kareem Hunt ran for 61 yards and two scores for the Browns. Cleveland tight end David Njoku had 149 receiving yards, including a 71-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to put the Browns back in front 35-28.
The Browns led 27-13 in the third after Chubb broke a 52-yard run for a score while breaking tackles on his way to escaping to the endzone.
However, Herbert then responded with a nine-yard rushing score six minutes later to get Los Angeles back within seven, trailing 27-20.
There were four lead changes in the final 15 minutes of play and both the teams combined for 41 points.
The Chargers started off briefly retaking the lead after Williams caught a 41-yard bomb to take a 28-27 advantage with 11:22 left in the fourth.
Njoku added his long score moments later, followed by Ekeler finding the endzone three times in the final 7:24 of play.
“Our guys are executing well in those ‘got-to-have-it’ situations. We needed it today,” Staley said on converting plays late. “We needed all those plays, and I’m really proud of our offensive football team today.”
Hunt gave the Browns a 42-35 on an 8-yard rushing score, only after Ekeler had rushed in a four-yard touchdown to tie the game at 35-35.
Ekeler then hauled in a 19-yard screen pass score from Herbert and crept the Chargers within one, 42-41 with 3:15 remaining after kicker Tristan Vizcaino missed the extra point, his second miss of the game.
Los Angeles forced a three and out on the defense and got the ball back where Ekeler found the end zone yet again, this time from three-yards out to give the Chargers a five-point advantage, though the team openly admitted they did not try to score while hoping to run the clock out to give the Browns less time on their final drive.
“I felt like I literally could have blown the game if the defense couldn’t get a stop. So thank you defense for getting that stop because I’m sure we were going to try to just hold out and then kick a field goal with the last few seconds of the game,” said Ekeler, who was dragged in the end zone intentionally by Browns defenders in order for their offense to get the ball back for a potential game winning drive.
Los Angeles locked in defensively in the final 1:31 of the game and held on for the thrilling 47-42 victory over the Browns.
The Chargers will next travel to take on the Baltimore Ravens (3-1) next Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
“It’s all about improvement. We’ve had a good stretch of games, but it is all about next week,” Herbert said. “We have a Baltimore [Ravens] team that we have to go play. They’re pretty tough. They present a lot of challenges. It is all about watching this tomorrow morning. We will get better from it, but it is all about moving on and continuing to develop and get better.”