CLEVELAND — When it came to his play-calling in the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Browns' 47-42 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Kevin Stefanski didn't mince words.
"I'm sick about it," the Browns head coach said on Monday.
In that regard, Stefanski isn't alone.
While there was plenty of blame to go around for Cleveland's Week 5 defeat, one of the most crucial stretches came as the Browns offense took the field with 3:08 remaining and a 42-41 lead.
With the opportunity to run the clock out and escape Los Angeles with a win in grasp, Kareem Hunt rushed for a one-yard gain, forcing the Chargers to call their first timeout. On second down, however, Los Angeles was able to save its second timeout when quarterback Baker Mayfield's passing attempt to wide receiver Rashard Higgins fell incomplete. Facing a third-and-9, Stefanski opted for a draw play to Hunt, who gained just three yards on the play.
While the Chargers were forced to use their second timeout, they did so knowing they would likely be getting the ball back as Cleveland faced a fourth-and-6 from its own 18-yard line. After a 42-yard Jamie Gillan punt, quarterback Justin Herbert proceeded to lead Los Angeles on a five-play, 48-yard touchdown drive, which ultimately proved to be the difference in the Chargers' five-point win.
Asked why he opted for a run rather than a pass on third-and-9, Stefanski admitted that he had let the incompletion on second down affect his call on the next play.
"In hindsight, I definitely wish I did something different. This is where I have to put our guys in a position to succeed and I didn't do that there," Stefanski said. "I definitely got too wrapped up in the previous play call with the clock stopping and with how that unfolded. Again, I have to put our guys in position and I can't do to our team."
As for "how that unfolded," Stefanski appeared to be alluding to the fact that pass interference wasn't called on the incompletion on second-and-9 -- a non-call that Mayfield complained about in his postgame press conference. Stefanski, however, opted not to join his quarterback in publicly criticizing the officiating on Sunday.
"They can say what they want to say in those moments and the emotion of the game certainly affects us," Stefanski said of his players. "But we can't rely on the officials."