CLEVELAND — He's arguably the Browns' best offensive player. Hell, he's arguably the NFL's best running back.
Nick Chubb spent much of Sunday running through, over and around the Los Angeles Chargers' defense, but with the game in the balance and the Browns needing two first downs to come away with a hard-fought road win against an elite team in the AFC, Chubb was watching helplessly on the sidelines.
The Chargers had just missed their second extra point of the day. It was a rare gift from a team with a head coach that gambles like he's playing Madden. All of the fourth-down tries, all of the conversions, and a kicker leaves the door open for the Browns to pick up two measly first downs and head home 4-1. There’s 3:15 to play when the Chargers kick off.
Mistake No. 1: Not letting the kick go into the end zone to take the ball on the 25-yard line. Instead, Anthony Schwartz tries a return that only gets back to the 14.
Things only got worse from there. First down was a Hunt run for 1 yard. Second down was an incomplete pass. Third down was a Hunt draw play.
Wait, what?!? When Hunt was tackled, the Browns had moved the ball 4 yards on three plays, taking a grand total of 18 seconds off of the game clock.
I wonder what Nick Chubb was thinking as he watched from the sidelines. Maybe he was thinking how he destroyed the Chargers defense all day long, how he carried the ball 21 times for 161 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown run. In case you're wondering, that's almost 8 yards per carry.
This was the absolute perfect situation for a back like Chubb, and he was a spectator. He's owed an apology.
These calls were made with the knowledge that the Browns defense was completely done. They came into the day missing key defensive players. and others would fall during the course of the game. To give the ball back to the Chargers at that point was simply putting off the inevitable.
LA's drive chart in the second half read "TD, punt, TD, TD." You can't expect that trend to suddenly change.
It didn't. In fact, the Chargers ripped through the banged-up Browns defense and scored a touchdown even when they weren't trying to. I'm still not certain why the Chargers didn't take a few knees and kick a field goal as time expired to win. Maybe they didn't trust their kicker (I can understand that), but when John Johnson III literally carried Austin Ekeler into the end zone to give the Chargers the 47-42 lead, the Browns had another chance, this time needing a touchdown to pull out the win.
But with no timeouts remaining, Cleveland would have to rely on great play-calling and execution to drive the length of the field. That didn't happen. Somehow, in a two-minute drill situation, the Browns managed to run three plays gaining 12 yards that took an astounding 50 precious seconds off the game clock. Baker Mayfield completed three passes to receivers who could not get out of bounds to stop the clock.
The rookie head coach on the other sidelines had to be watching in disbelief. All that remained were the hopeless deep balls (three of them, to be exact), and 42 points were officially wasted. Kevin Stefanski had done such a masterful job with this offense for 57 minutes, but you have to play 60 (and coach 60) to win.
You draft a back like Chubb to win games just like this one: Get a lead, pound out a couple of first downs, on to the next one. Chubb is death by a million cuts: Pound the line, pound the line, pound the line, then break one.
You needed two first downs to be 4-1. You have the dream back built for moments like this one. He deserved the chance to put this one away.
Sadly, he didn’t get it.