It was like a gravitational pull, a tug of this heartstrings which Casey Hayward felt all the way in Macon, Ga., in which the Chargers All-Pro cornerback spent four days a week tethered to his household after his younger brother, JeCavesia, died in an auto accident late Monday night.
Can Hayward toy with the Concept of not returning for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns? “Oh, for certain,” he said.
However there was Hayward, flying round the StubHub Center area, playing with every defensive snap and putting that the clampdown on touted Browns recipient Josh Gordon to lead a second defensive effort.
“I am better when I am out here, when I am on the area, being around people I care for and people who care for me,” Hayward said. “I wished to be back here with my brothers.”
The feeling was mutual. In a locker room after the Chargers won to grab a share of the AFC West lead, buzzing with adrenaline and emotion, Hayward was awarded the game ball by coach Anthony Lynn.
“Casey is among the strongest people I know,” fellow cornerback Trevor Williams stated. “Losing his mother (to cancer in 2016), losing his brother, coming back and playing with us and having the ability to focus … I am not sure I could handle that same type of pressure.
“We are all brothers. We are all here for one another in bad and good times. We’ve got his spine. That is known by him. He dropped a brother, but he gained 53 plus.”
27, JeCavesia Hayward, was a passenger in a Toyota Camry that struck on a tractor trailer in the emergency lane of Interstate 75 late Monday. He died after being ejected from the vehicle and struck by automobiles.
Casey Hayward did not practice and left the team Tuesday. He returned to Southern California following funeral services for JeCavesia.
He did not see film after sitting out the previous three years for multiple violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, on Gordon, that made his return.
The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Hayward came face-to-face with the 6-foot-3 Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards and scored nine touchdowns in 2013 Sunday.
Gordon, that drew policy for most of the day from Hayward, was targeted 11 times but caught just four passes. The cover corner in the league, Hayward, according to Pro Football Focus, had three tackles and broke up two passes.
“Ron Milus called me every day giving me updates about the plot, things we had been doing,” Hayward said, speaking to the team’s defensive backs coach. “I got to see film on Saturday, but it was like cramming for a test. I think that I might have gotten a B-plus or something like that.”
Gordon caught a pass on the first play of this game on a quick slant. He outjumped Hayward on a go route up the left sideline for a gain before halftime to install DeShone Kizer touchdown pass to David Njoku that gave the Browns a 7-6 lead with 1 minute 55 seconds.
“This was a third-and-1, therefore I tried to play with the sticks,” Hayward said of this Gordon catch. “I jammed him really great and got my hands on him (in the line of scrimmage), but the quarterback put a fantastic ball on the market, and it was a great catch.”
Hayward dropped a potential interception in the third quarter. He also had a hand — or, instead, a face — in the biggest play of the game in the fourth. The Browns were about the Chargers line when Joey Bosa forced a fumble on a third-down play and sacked Kizer with.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman kicked at the ball when trying to scoop it up then pumped it toward the sideline. The ball was headed out of bounds before it bounced from the head of Hayward and back into the hands of Perryman, who recovered with 4:48 left to play with.
“He kicked it right into my head mask,” Hayward said. “Somehow, it remained in bounds, man.”
Gordon had one big play with two minutes left in a prevent defense in the game, a catch over the middle using the Chargers. However, Hayward did not give up much else. An Adrian Phillips interception with 1:14 to play sealed the win.
“This man arrived on Friday night, he did not get to genuinely practice, and he comes out here and locks down an all-pro receiver?” Free security Tre Boston stated of Hayward. “The planning that Casey went through mentally to get ready for the game … it is just a testament to how good he is. He’s the ultimate warrior.”
DiGiovanna writes for the Los Angeles Times.