CLEVELAND (AP) — Brandon Staley went from being incredibly risky to lucky in minutes.
Rookie Cade York missed a 54-yard field goal with 11 seconds left and Los Angeles held on for a 30-28 victory over the Cleveland Browns after Staley, the Chargers coach who loves to play loose, inexplicably gambled on a fourth down.
York’s kick sailed right and allowed the Chargers (3-2) to escape with a win Staley tried to give away.
With his team at its own 46 and leading by two, Staley called a timeout but instead of punting had Justin Herbert attempt a short pass on fourth-and-2 for Mike Williams that fell incomplete, giving the ball back to the Browns with 1:10 left.
“We’re willing to live with that decision,” Staley said. “There was no way I’m taking our offense off the field.”
Cleveland had no timeouts and drove to the Chargers 35 to set up a game-winning shot for York, but the big-legged draft pick from LSU, couldn’t convert. He earlier missed a 45-yard attempt.
Austin Ekeler rushed for a career-high 173 yards and scored twice as San Diego, which came in last in the NFL in rushing, leaned on its ground game to win its second shootout in two seasons with the Browns (2-3). Los Angeles finished with 238 yards rushing, 174 more than its average.
The teams combined for 908 total yards and 53 first downs.
The most notable defensive play came when Chargers safety Alohi Gilman intercepted Jacoby Brissett’s pass in the end zone with 2:44 left, setting up a confusing finish highlighted by Staley’s brash decision.
Cleveland’s Nick Chubb ran for 134 yards and had a 2-yard TD run.
Williams had 10 catches for 134 yards.
Los Angeles kicker Taylor Bertolet kicked a 27-yard field goal — in his NFL debut — early in the fourth to put the Chargers ahead 30-28. Bertolet was activated from the practice squad earlier in the week and played when Dustin Hopkins was ruled out with a quadriceps injury.
Ekeler had a 22-yard TD run and caught a 12-yard pass from Justin Herbert, who finished 22 of 34 for 228 yards, ending his streak of consecutive road games with at least 300 yards at seven.
The Chargers were clinging to their two-point lead when Brissett, who looked as if he could have run for a first down, forced a ball over the middle toward receiver Amari Cooper and was picked off by Gilman.
While Brissett has been OK while filling in while Deshaun Watson serves his 11-game suspension, Cleveland continues to have major issues on defense.
The Chargers pushed the Browns around up front and star defensive end Myles Garrett had little impact in his first game back after he was involved in a car crash.
Players on both teams spent pregame warmups swatting away midges, those small, winged insects that swarm along Lake Erie during the spring and fall.
The bugs made a famous appearance at the 2007 baseball playoffs in Cleveland. New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain was, ahem, bugged by clusters of midges, which engulfed him and affected his performance on the mound.
With his fifth straight 100-yard receiving game on the road, Williams tied Chad Johnson for the AFC record. The NFL mark is six, shared by three Hall of Famers: Jerry Rice (twice), Calvin Johnson and Michael Irvin.
Chargers: WR Joshua Palmer returned after leaving on the first series with an unspecified injury. … Starting RT Trey Pipkins III (left knee) also came back after getting rolled up on from behind in the second quarter.
Browns: Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter and was placed in league protocol.
Chargers: Host the Denver Broncos on Oct. 17.
Browns: Host the New England Patriots on Oct. 16.