Chargers coach Brandon Staley made one of the most controversial calls of NFL Week 5 late in Los Angeles' 30-28 win over the Browns.
The Chargers were facing a fourth-and-2 on their own 46-yard line with 1:13 left in the game and the Browns out of timeouts. Many assumed that Los Angeles would put the ball away and forced Cleveland and Jacoby Brissett to drive into range for a potential game-winning field goal.
Staley had other ideas.
Staley, who is known as one of the most aggressive coaches in the NFL, opted to go for it. Quarterback Justin Herbert attempted a pass in the direction of Mike Williams, but the two were unable to connect.— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022
As a result, the Browns got the ball on the Chargers' 46-yard line, on the edge of rookie kicker Cade York's field-goal range.
Staley's decision to go for it puzzled many. That included Los Angeles' injured wide receiver, Keenan Allen, who took to Twitter to question Staley's call in-game.
WTF are we doing?— Keenan Allen (@Keenan13Allen) October 9, 2022
So, why did Staley decide to go for it? The second-year coach explained his logic in a postgame news conference.
"We just wanted to finish the game with the ball," he said. "Felt like we liked the play, liked the match-up, knew what coverage they were going to be in. We wanted to finish the game on our terms… It just didn’t go down for us."
Staley further detailed that the matchup the team was targeting — Mike Williams vs. rookie cornerback M.J. Emerson — had been fruitful throughout the game. That was part of the reason that Williams racked up 10 catches for 134 yards during the contest.
Staley also wanted to make it clear that he believed in his defense's ability to get one final stop if the Chargers didn't convert.
"I had a lot of confidence in our defense to go out there and get them stopped and that was a big motive because we knew they’d have to throw the ball to beat us," he said. "And we felt like we could cover them."
Staley's instinct proved right. The Chargers were able to limit the Browns to 10 yards on six plays, and that set up a 54-yard field goal for York. He pushed the kick just wide right with 16 seconds left to seal a Chargers win.
And the game's ending sat very well with Staley.
I love the way our team finished that game because obviously the storybook would have been just to finish it right there, right? And to walk to victory lane. That’s not how it went. We had to go play defense and our defense ended up winning us the game with that takeaway and that stop at the end of the game.
Chargers QB Justin Herbert backed up his head coach's decision, as well.
"It says a lot that he believes in us, just like I believe in our receivers, our offensive line, our running backs," Herbert said. I know that we can go out there and we can convert. It didn’t go our way, unfortunately. But, we’re riding with that play, we’re riding with those guys and the defense came up with a big stop, so it worked out."
In hindsight, it worked out for the Chargers.
However, that decision didn't sit well with the Browns. Both Myles Garrett and Greg Newsome thought Staley's call was "disrespectful" to Cleveland's defense. As such, they were glad they came up with the final stop.
The numbers didn't agree with Cleveland's "disrespectful" characterization. The Chargers' decision to go for it actually raised the team's win probability by an average of 11.7 percent.
---> LAC (30) @ CLE (28) <---
LAC has 4th & 1 at the LAC 46
Recommendation (YOU BETTER DO THIS): 👉 Go for it (+11.7 WP)
Actual play: 👉 (Shotgun) J.Herbert pass incomplete short right to M.Williams (M.Emerson). pic.twitter.com/K0r3N8jnhi
So, it was an efficient choice for Los Angeles. It just didn't deliver the preferred outcome.