CARSON, Calif. (AP) Casey Hayward spent the week away from the Los Angeles Chargers after his brother was killed in a car accident Monday night. The star cornerback thought about staying with his relatives in Georgia and skipping the Chargers’ game against Cleveland.
Instead, he returned in time to join his other family for another victory in the Chargers’ remarkable resurgence.
”I’m better when I’m out here,” Hayward said. ”I’m better when I’m on the field.”
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Philip Rivers passed for 344 yards and hit Keenan Allen for a touchdown, and the surging Chargers moved into a tie for first place in the AFC West with their third straight victory, 19-10 over the winless Browns on Sunday.
Hayward had three tackles and two passes defensed despite missing most of the week. He returned to Southern California just in time for a cram session on the Browns (0-12) and receiver Josh Gordon, who was held to four catches for 85 yards in his first game since 2014.
The Chargers (6-6) have won six of eight after an 0-4 start, and Hayward has played a major role in the resurgence. He was the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, racking up three interceptions while Los Angeles surged back into the playoff race.
”If you had told us when we started with an 0-4 record that we would be where we are now, people would say you’re crazy,” Hayward said. ”I think we are headed in the right direction. We can win this quarter of the season and be in the playoffs. We have a chance to make some noise.”
Hayward was still processing a week of extreme emotions when he hit the StubHub Center field, but his coaches and teammates thought he handled it superbly.
”From what I saw from the sidelines, Casey competed,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. ”He wanted to play and be here with his teammates, and I thought he helped us. … I think it was good for him to be in the game, because he doesn’t have to think about his brother and those feelings. I thought he was out there having fun with his teammates.”
Hayward and the rest of the Chargers didn’t celebrate much, even though the win propelled them into an improbable share of first.
Allen had 10 catches for 105 yards in his third straight big game for the Chargers, who have pulled even with Oakland and slumping Kansas City atop the division with four games to go.
”No one ever flinched,” Lynn said. ”At 0-4, we still had a lot of football left, and that’s how we’ve always looked at it. To be in this position doesn’t surprise me at all, because guys have worked hard and they’re committed to the process. They never stopped believing.”
After their 30th loss in 31 games, the Browns have just four games left to avoid becoming the fifth winless team in NFL history and only the second in a 16-game season.
”We are very close to getting where we want to go, but I can definitely sense in this locker room that close isn’t cutting it anymore,” said DeShone Kizer, who passed for 215 yards. ”We need to get over that hill.”
Cleveland dropped to 1-27 under coach Hue Jackson, who broke John McKay’s NFL record for the slowest start to a coaching tenure with a franchise. The Browns’ only victory since Dec. 13, 2015, was a 20-17 win over the then-San Diego Chargers on Christmas Eve last season.
This one was particularly frustrating because the Browns played fairly well on the road, where they’ve lost 18 consecutive games since October 2015. After kicking a field goal for a nine-point deficit early in the fourth quarter, Cleveland made two solid drives deep into Chargers territory, but both ended in turnovers by Kizer. His fumble on a strip-sack by Joey Bosa was recovered by Denzel Perryman, and then he threw an interception to Adrian Phillips.
”We’ve had several games that are like that, but we don’t do it,” Jackson said. ”You never win until you win.”
Travis Coons, the Browns’ kicker in 2015, made four field goals in his debut with the Chargers. Cleveland cut Coons before last season, and he hadn’t cracked another NFL roster until he replaced Nick Novak in LA just in time to hurt the Browns. Coons’ first 38-yard attempt clanged off the upright on the Chargers’ opening drive, but he didn’t miss again.
BIG GAME KEENAN
Allen made three catches on the Chargers’ only scoring drive, and his 7-yard TD grab gave him four scores in three games. The fifth-year pro became the first player in NFL history with at least 10 catches for 100 yards and one touchdown in three consecutive games. He surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time since his rookie season in 2013.
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