As the Browns deal with the disappointment of failing to build a winning streak, the San Diego Chargers are trying to regroup from colossal collapses in each of their past two games.
Both teams are desperate for redemption heading into their showdown Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The Browns (1-6) squandered chances Sunday to capitalize on the morale boost they gained from their Week 6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and Jimmy Haslam’s approval as owner. Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon dropped the potential game-winning touchdown pass, coach Pat Shurmur made a questionable decision to punt on a crucial fourth-and-1 with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter and the Browns suffered a 17-13 loss on the road against the Indianapolis Colts.
Meanwhile, the Chargers (3-3) had plenty of time to reflect on their recent meltdowns during their Week 7 bye. On Oct. 7, they allowed 17 unanswered points and fell 31-24 to the host New Orleans Saints. Then on Oct. 15, they wasted a 24-0 halftime lead at home and lost to the Denver Broncos 35-24. Quarterback Peyton Manning and the rest of the Broncos tied the fourth-greatest regular-season comeback in NFL history.
Michael Gehlken covers the Chargers for U-T San Diego. He discussed the team in the following question-and-answer session:
Q: After the Chargers’ historic collapse against the Broncos, they didn’t receive an opportunity to atone Sunday because they had a bye. What’s their attitude coming off the break?
A: “Yeah, several players lamented after the collapse to the Broncos that now they get an extra week for the loss to linger. There was some anger and confusion over their play to close that game. Since they’ve returned, it’s actually been fairly calm as NFL locker rooms go. There’s a good understanding the Broncos result can’t be changed. They can only control what happens next in Cleveland.”
Q: In their three losses this season, the Chargers have been outscored 59-10 after halftime. How do you explain the trend and what is coach Norv Turner planning to do in an attempt to reverse it?
A: “Turnovers have been a big part of that. Quarterback Philip Rivers has turned the ball over 12 times this season and, with nine interceptions, is on pace for a career-high 24 picks. Five of his interceptions and three of his fumbles have come in the second half of losses. The Chargers’ offensive line has also been inconsistent, particularly when without a healthy Jared Gaither. Trailing late in a game with a poor O-line and a quarterback who’s making some poor decisions are a recipe for disaster. The Chargers are expected to get Gaither back [at left tackle] this game. That’ll help Turner, who’s also looking to scale back some of his play calling to eliminate some of the higher-risk route combinations. It will be interesting to see what that looks like.”
Q: In addition to blowing leads in their past two games, the Chargers have received negative attention for their Stickum scandal and a story on their website written by their director of public relations. Can you explain each situation and whether you think either one is a distraction for the team?
A: “Not a quiet bye week in San Diego. First, the team’s PR director told fans and media, amid an understandably cold reception to the Broncos disaster, to “get over it” and “take a chill pill,” asking, “what’s with you people?” He was harmless in intent — his point was it’s only one game and there are 10 to go — but the medium is the message. People see that same opinion piece at some off-the-wall blog, and who cares? See that on the official team website, and it sure looks like those thoughts and didactic tone are representative of the entire Chargers organization. So that didn’t go over well. Now, there is an apparent issue with the team’s towels, which seem to be used elsewhere around the league. These towels give off a wax-based tack feel. They’ve been used in the NFL for years, but the Chargers got the finger pointed at them (Turner blames the Broncos for that), and are now in hot water. It’s a strange situation that is developing each day. These players will deny either story has been a distraction, and that’s fine. To some extent, maybe that’s true. But they’re a source of national embarrassment these fans didn’t need after that Broncos loss.”
Q: What should the Browns worry about most when they face the Chargers?
A: “Towels aside? Running back Ryan Mathews is coming off a season-high 26 touches. Seems only a matter of time before he takes over a game, and he’ll have his chances Sunday.”
Q: In which areas are the Chargers vulnerable?
A: “Their run defense has been strong, but the Chargers’ pass rush and coverage have been anything but consistent. They’ve given up too many big plays and really struggle against accurate quarterbacks with a quick release. Manning picked them apart. The Browns need Brandon Weeden to do the same.”
Read Michael Gehlken’s coverage of the Chargers at www.utsandiego.com. Follow him on Twitter: @UTGehlken. Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.