CARSON — A few minutes before kickoff on Sunday, Casey Hayward walked down the StubHub Center sideline, shaking hands with every teammate he could reach.
The Chargers cornerback had lost his younger brother six days earlier, a victim of a car crash roughly an hour south of Atlanta. After spending most of the week at home in Georgia, Hayward decided to join his second family.
“I’m better when I’m out here,” he said. “Better when I’m on the field. … My teammates here, these guys are like my brothers. Anything for those guys.”
The Chargers beat the winless Browns 19-10, winning their third straight game and moving into a first-place tie in the AFC West. They did so with an assist from Hayward, a Pro Bowl defender who was back in the starting lineup despite attending a funeral two days earlier.
On Monday night, JeCavesia Hayward was a passenger inside a Toyota Camry that crashed into a tractor-trailer on the I-95 in Macon, Ga. The 27-year-old was ejected, struck by other vehicles and pronounced dead at the scene. Soon after hearing the news, Casey flew back to his home state, keeping up with his team’s game plan via calls and texts with defensive backs coach Ron Milus.
The Chargers (6-6) expected Hayward, 28, back in time to play the Browns — but they also weren’t going to rush him if he changed his mind.
“We didn’t quite know what he was going to do,” said defensive tackle Damion Square. “We were ready to accept anything.”
Hayward wasn’t sure either. He considered missing the game, but ultimately landed back in Los Angeles late Friday night. He spent Saturday squeezing in his only session of film study.
His task? Defend Josh Gordon, the former All-Pro receiver playing for the first time since 2014.
“Cramming before a test,” Hayward said. “I think I might’ve got like a B-plus.”
Gordon finished four catches for 85 yards, showing little rust despite a nearly three-year absence due to multiple drug and alcohol suspensions. He beat Hayward for an acrobatic 28-yard catch late in the second quarter, using his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame to elevate for the first-down conversion.
Good for you, Josh Gordon pic.twitter.com/DnD8nzLtDc
— Judson Richards (@Judson1360) December 3, 2017
But Hayward — who received IV fluids to hydrate on Saturday and Sunday — also broke up two passes and recorded three tackles. His last one came on the end of Gordon’s 39-yard catch-and-run, but prevented a potential touchdown with…