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Week 16 Game Recap: San Diego Chargers 17, Cleveland Browns 20


What you need to know

San Diego Chargers

Despite the obvious (losing to the previously-winless Browns), Philip Rivers had another afternoon to forget. While his counting stats were solid, and he went over 4,000 passing yards for the eighth time in nine seasons, he was under a lot of pressure for most of the game and lacked the accuracy needed on a day when the running game was largely ineffective.

Kenneth Farrow again drew the start in place of the injured Melvin Gordon. Farrow looked very good on the opening possession, but his relevance was limited as the game went on. By the end of the game, San Diego was taking to the air on nearly every pass attempt and Farrow was alternating series with Ronnie Hillman. It was reported during the game that Farrow had suffered a shoulder injury, and in fact he has since been placed on season-ending injured reserve by the team.

Antonio Gates continues to defy Father Time. He was the team leader in receptions and yardage, and added a 1-yard touchdown early on. He was consistently the favorite target of Philip Rivers, and continued his resurgence over the second half of the season to stake his claim as the team's top tight end over newcomer Hunter Henry.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns' march toward infamy was halted as they were able to pull off a victory over the Chargers, ensuring there would not be a 0-16 season in Cleveland. The team was aided by a blocked field goal and, later, a missed field goal by the Chargers. The Browns offense came to play in the first half of the game, engineering two touchdown scoring drives on their first two possessions and scoring on three of the first four times they touched the ball. San Diego had no answer for the scrambling ability of Robert Griffin III, who kept several drives alive with timely rushes. Cleveland's offense began to stall out in the second half as the Chargers started teeing off on the quarterback, first Griffin and later Cody Kessler after the former was lost to a concussion. Kessler could be under center for the regular season finale against the Steelers if Griffin is not cleared in time.

San Diego Chargers

QB Philip Rivers, 68 offensive snaps, Pass: 23 - 46 - 322 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0
Rivers had a highly inefficient 300-yard, 2-touchdown afternoon. He completed just half of his pass attempts, and averaged just seven yards per attempt. This, despite completing a 50-yard bomb on his first attempt of the game. That pass, in fact, should have gone for a lot more than fifty yards but Rivers hung it up in the air quite a bit and Travis Benjamin had to wait for it to come down. Rivers did eventually cap that drive with a wide open touchdown pass to Antonio Gates off a play action fake. But after the early success, it was very difficult for San Diego to move the ball. Despite Cleveland's woeful defense, Rivers was under duress most of the game. It didn't help that three more previously healthy lineman were injured during this game, and starter Kenneth Farrow was also briefly lost for some time with a shoulder injury. So with a lot of the defensive attention focused on Rivers and the passing game, it was tough for him to step into his throws. He floated one to Tyrell Williams on a crossing route that went too high and was nearly picked off, and then later in the first half he horribly underthrew Gates for his league-leading 18th interception of the season. To make matters worse, Gates had beaten his man by several yards and was streaking down the left sideline wide open on the play. Rivers settled down a bit to open the second half, dropping a perfect pass to Williams to convert a third down right out of halftime. And he later floated one in the end zone from a yard out to Williams, who made a terrific individual effort in snagging the pass with one hand and cradling it in for the score. But that was pretty much the end of his efficiency for the game. On the rare occasions he had time to throw, his passes just lacked crispness. He was off-target on consecutive passes to Dontrelle Inman early in the fourth quarter, and then was late on an end zone attempt to Tyrell Williams late in the fourth quarter that would have given San Diego the lead. With the game on the line, he just repeatedly peppered Gates with targets in an attempt to get San Diego into field goal range. They did get into range - twice, in fact - but the first kick was blocked, and the second was missed as time expired.

RB Kenneth Farrow, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 28 - 0, Rec: 4 - 29 - 0 (4 targets)
Farrow started off the game exceptionally well, showing good vision and power in helping move the team downfield and into the red zone. On the opening possession, San Diego opted to go for it on fourth down rather than attempt a field goal, and Farrow converted, taking it down just inside the 1-yard line. He was very close to a score on the play, but on the ensuing first down play the Chargers opted to use play action to Farrow and throw a touchdown to a wide open Antonio Gates. It should be noted that Farrow likely would have been stuffed if they had given him the ball on the play, as the defense collapsed right at the middle of the attack around Farrow, expecting him to get the ball. Later in the half, he picked up 16 yards on a designed screen pass. He showed good vision and patience, and some nice downfield blocking enabled the play to develop as well as it did. Farrow whose reputation is that of a bruiser who charges straight ahead, has shown more competence in the passing game than many expected. He added another reception in the second half, using an excellent spin move to shake his defender and pick up the first down. As the second half went on, he continued to be used somewhat sparingly. The team trailed throughout, so the game plan called for more of the passing game. But Farrow also briefly left the game for a bit with a shoulder injury, which likely helped contribute to the extra work for Ronnie Hillman. With Hillman largely ineffective, Farrow kept getting work but there simply wasn't much there in terms of space. On the team's last-gasp drive, Farrow missed a blitzer and appeared to acknowledge his mistake to Rivers after Rivers yelled at him for the blown assignment.

RB Ronnie Hillman, 26 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)
Rookie Kenneth Farrow fumbled twice last week, and Hillman looked good in limited action. So coming into this game, it was assumed that the Chargers might employ more of a committee approach. That theory went out the window on the team's opening possession, when Farrow got all of the work out of the backfield. That trend continued the entire game, aside from a short period of time when Farrow injured his shoulder and had to leave the game for a bit. Hillman simply showed zero escapability whatsoever. If he tried stretching a play out wide, the defense easily ran him down. If he ran up the middle, he had no strength to move the pile. Hillman was given a carry from the goal line after Antonio Gates had drawn a pass interference in the end zone, but Hillman was stuffed and the play went nowhere.

RB Derek Watt, 13 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 16 - 0 (1 targets)
With starter Melvin Gordon inactive and temporary starter Kenneth Farrow having left the game briefly due to injury, there won't be a greater chance for Watt to get in on the offensive gameplan. Yet despite the bump up the depth chart, he saw just one offensive touch in the game. It happened to be a key third down conversion after leaking into the flat late in the third quarter, but it was his only target of the afternoon.

RB Melvin Gordon
Gordon was inactive for the second consecutive week with a hip injury. With absolutely nothing left to play for this season, it's highly unlikely he'll see the field in the Week 17 finale, and will likely end up three yards shy of his first 1,000 yard campaign.

WR Tyrell Williams, 56 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 64 - 1 (9 targets)
Williams hasn't quite seen the volume of targets in his direction that he was seeing earlier in the season, but he has learned to become very efficient with the ones he is seeing. He picked up 27 yards on a crossing route over the middle early on. He turned up the sideline and actually sought out contact with the defender to try and fight for more yardage. In the second half, he turned in consecutive nice receptions - the first a 20-yard gain to convert a 3rd and ten pass play. And the next went for 16 yards despite taking a big hit at the end of the sliding grab. That hit forced him to the sideline where he was seen squatting on the ground in apparent pain. But he returned soon thereafter to demonstrate his tremendous athleticism on a goal line pass play. San Diego has tried getting the ball to Williams in the red zone on many occasions this season, with varying success. On this play, he ran a crossing route from right to left as Philip Rivers flipped a floater up over his head. Williams reached up, cradled the ball with one hand against his body, and secured it for the score. This wasn't simply a case of batting the ball to himself or getting lucky; he showed tremendously soft hands in guiding it all the way in. He nearly added a second score late in the fourth quarter that could have gone for the game-winner, but the pass from Rivers was knocked away by a defender at the last second. If the ball had led him a bit more, he might have hauled it in. But the pass seemed to get there a split second late.

WR Travis Benjamin, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 75 - 0 (4 targets)
Benjamin has had a very quiet campaign, considering what the Chargers expected from him when they brought him in from Cleveland. He did manage to connect on a long reception in this game, beating Joe Haden for a long 50-yard reception. It actually should have gone for a touchdown because he beat his man by a good 4-5 yards, but the Rivers pass hung up quite a bit and Benjamin had to wait for it to come down. After the long catch, he added a short curl (beating his man with a spin to pick up another 7 yards or so), and a key third down conversion where he went in motion and caught it in the flat to pick up a nice gain up the left sideline. But after halftime, Benjamin essentially wasn't heard from again.

WR Dontrelle Inman, 56 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 44 - 0 (10 targets)
Inman has shown a lot of consistency in recent weeks and had seemingly become a favorite target of Philip Rivers over that time. And while he did see a fair share of looks in this game, he wasn't able to really break free. Most of his work was done on sideline out routes and passes underneath. He was sort of targeted a couple of times in the end zone, but both times the ball was rushed out due to Rivers being under duress and Inman wasn't really open anyway. His first catch of the game didn't even come until there was about a minute left in the first half. He did come close to a couple of second half receptions, one going for a drop, one getting reversed to an incompletion after the officials huddled up, and one a diving catch near the sideline that was overturned due to an offensive holding penalty on San Diego. Inman did add a nice diving reception for 19 yards on the very next play anyway, which at least helped offset the previous loss.

TE Antonio Gates, 57 offensive snaps, Rec: 8 - 94 - 1 (13 targets)
Between the former presence of Ladarius Green and the current presence of Hunter Henry, Gates has been written off by several pundits for the last several seasons. Yet he is going to close out yet another campaign as San Diego's top pass-catching tight end, and showed in this game that he's still got the complete trust of quarterback Philip Rivers. He started his afternoon off with one of the easiest touchdowns of his career on San Diego's opening possession. From the goal line, he leaked out into the flat off play action and there wasn't a defender within ten yards of him by the time he caught the ball. He added a couple more receptions later in the half, but really got busy in the second half. He drew a long pass interference penalty in the back corner of the end zone to set up another first and goal. And on the potential game-tying drives late in the fourth quarter, he was consistently Philip Rivers' first look. Gates made a wide open 20-yard grab to put the ball at the 13-yard line, but the ensuing potential game-tying field goal attempt was blocked. On the next drive, Gates made an incredible shoestring grab off the turf with the defender hanging all over him and trying to rip it away. He added a sideline grab on the next play, and then connected on a game-saving 4th and 10 pass play over the middle for 25 more yards. He was wide open on the play, and the catch put San Diego into field goal range. His final reception of the game came on a third down pass play. He couldn't quite push the pile far enough ahead to pick up the first down, so the Chargers were unable to spike the ball since it was now fourth down. With the team out of timeouts, they had to rush the field goal unit onto the field, which may have helped contribute to the kick being rushed a bit. It was missed wide right.

TE Hunter Henry, 19 offensive snaps
After a hot start to the season, Henry has taken a back seat to Antonio Gates in terms of the tight end targets. In this game, Gates led the team in both receptions and yardage, and added a touchdown for good measure. He was constantly the favorite target of Philip Rivers at just about every key moment. Henry, meanwhile, didn't see a single pass in his direction all afternoon.


Cleveland Browns

QB Robert Griffin III, 61 offensive snaps, Pass: 17 - 25 - 164 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 6 - 42 - 0
Griffin's rushing ability is a main reason the Browns were able to move the ball against San Diego, extending drives and forcing the Chargers to account for him on every play. He did take a lot of sacks yet again in this game, many being his fault for holding on to the ball too long. Most of San Diego's sacks came in the second half. Griffin's first pass of the game, to Terrelle Pryor, was not completed, but it resulted in a pass interference call for a 13-yard pickup. Later on the team's first drive, Griffin almost threw a red zone interception. The ball just barely short-hopped the defender, although the play would have been nullified by a roughing penalty on the Chargers. Griffin made a fantastic play to extend the Browns' second drive, eluding several defenders on 3rd-and-8 to scramble for a first down. He did so again on Cleveland's third drive, rushing for a first down on 3rd-and-8. Griffin tried several deep shots throughout the game, but was unable to connect on any. He went long to Corey Coleman twice in the first half. On the first attempt it looked like he had Coleman down the left side of the field, but the receiver was tripped by a Chargers defender. No flag on the play. In the second quarter Griffin went back to Coleman and he made the catch by the pylon, but his feet came down out of bounds. On the Browns' final drive of the first half he took a deep end zone shot to Terrelle Pryor, putting the ball right in his hands. Pryor didn't make the catch, with Casey Hayward breaking the play up at the last second. Griffin also came close to scoring in the third quarter as he found Andrew Hawkins in the back of the end zone. Hawkins made the leaping catch, but was unable to keep his feet inbounds when he landed. Griffin sustained a concussion early in the fourth quarter when he took a hard hit trying to avoid the pass rush.

QB Cody Kessler, 10 offensive snaps, Pass: 2 - 3 - 11 - 0 TD / 0 INT
Kessler came into the game in the fourth quarter after Robert Griffin III sustained a concussion. Kessler was only called upon to pass three times as the Browns were dialing up mostly runs in attempts to ice the clock and hold on to a three-point lead. Kessler's first pass was a very catchable one to Corey Coleman that was dropped. He bounced back to make a clutch throw to Coleman to convert a third down and extend a drive. Kessler has a chance at starting the last game of the season if Griffin is not cleared in time.

RB Isaiah Crowell, 38 offensive snaps, Rush: 16 - 54 - 2, Rec: 4 - 4 - 0 (5 targets)
Crowell had a big game, scoring both of the Browns' touchdowns. He ran hard, like usual, and benefitted from some great blocking, especially from the right side of Cleveland's offensive line. The game started off slowly for Crowell as he lost four yards on a dump off and was then stuffed on his first carry of the game. He bounced back to score on an eight-yard touchdown run for Cleveland's first points of the game. The run went to the right side where he got great blocks from Gary Barnidge, Jonathan Cooper, and Austin Pasztor, and a great lead block from his fullback, Danny Vitale. Crowell was barely touched on the run for the easy score. On the Browns' second possession Crowell again benefitted from great blocking, ripping off a 14-yard run before scoring again on a four-yard rush. This time one defender got a hand on Crowell's shirt, but he was basically untouched again. In the third quarter, Crowell could have had a huge gain as he shot up the right side of the field on a carry. He was unable to maintain his balance along the sideline, however, and was ruled out after a 10-yard gain. He saw one last red zone carry in the third quarter but was stuffed by the Chargers.

RB Duke Johnson, 33 offensive snaps, Rush: 7 - 28 - 0, Rec: 2 - 21 - 0 (2 targets)
Johnson saw the Browns' first red zone touch, picking up three yards from San Diego's 18. In the second quarter he picked up 17 yards after an electric catch-and-run. He made a jump cut almost instantly after making the catch, avoiding two Chargers defenders to tack on some extra yardage. In the third quarter, Johnson had a 22-yard rush which brought the Browns down to San Diego's eight yard line. In the fourth quarter, Johnson appeared to injure his ankle following a run. He was on the ground for a minute or so before later being seen having his left ankle tended to on the sideline. He was able to return to action on the ensuing drive.

WR Terrelle Pryor, 66 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 36 - 0 (5 targets)
Pryor had the potential for a big game, but was unable to win a few contested balls with Casey Hayward. Both would have been tough catches, but were definitely makeable for Pryor and would have boosted his stat line considerably. He drew a pass interference on his first target of the game for a 13-yard gain for the offense. His second target was catchable, but the pass was broken up by Hayward. Pryor's first catch of the game came in the second quarter on a slant which went for an 18-yard gain. He saw a deep end zone target toward the end of the first half, but was unable to make the catch. It was a great pass which hit him in the hands, but he couldn't finish for the touchdown. Credit goes to Hayward for another breakup, but Pryor should have made the grab. In the second half Pryor added another slant for 11 yards before finishing with a seven-yard catch on 3rd-and-10. He was given a large cushion to operate with and was tackled as soon as he made the catch.

WR Corey Coleman, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 15 - 0 (5 targets)
Coleman had a slow game. The opportunity was there for more production, it just didn't come to fruition. The rookie receiver saw two deep shots but was unable to connect with Robert Griffin on either. The first deep shot came in the first quarter, but Coleman was tripped by a San Diego defender. No flag was thrown and the play looked promising had Coleman stayed on his feet. He saw another deep pass near the pylon in the second quarter. He was able to make the catch, but his momentum carried him out of bounds before he could get his feet down. In the fourth quarter he dropped a catchable ball before rebounding to make a big grab on third down to extend a drive.

TE Gary Barnidge, 68 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 42 - 0 (6 targets)
Barnidge had his biggest game of the second half of the season and led the team in receiving. All of his work came on short routes, mostly in the middle of the field. His first catch came on the first drive of the game and was a first down conversion on 4th-and-6. He did well to catch a wobbly pass from quarterback Robert Griffin III on the play. He made another big play in the third quarter on a third down. He caught the ball short of the marker, but was able to bull his way forward for a first down, carrying defenders with him.