The Cleveland Browns welcomed an Oakland Raiders team to FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday afternoon that had lost eleven straight road games and 16 straight road losses in the eastern time zone. Once the ball kicked off at 1:00 p.m. eastern time, 10:00 a.m pacific, it looked like the Browns were having trouble with jet lag and an early start time and not the Raiders.
A very disappointing first half performance would cost the Browns as they loss their second game of the season 27-20. The Browns defense was gashed by Derek Carr and the Raiders offense as Oakland had 469 yards of total offense. The Browns finished with 355 yards, but the majority of it came in the second half after falling behind 20-3.
“Just not good enough. Not good enough in all three phases. Made some unforced errors, especially early in the game,” head coach Mike Pettine said. “You can’t fall behind in the NFL and expect to play well late and then win. You leave yourself zero margin for error, and that is what happened to us. We have to start much better. I told the guys afterward that was a wasted opportunity – great day at home, in front of our crowd begging for something to cheer about, and we had them sitting on their hands for a good part of the game. Unfortunate we prepare and put so much time and you get so few opportunities and we wasted one. The challenge to our guys is to come in tomorrow and make sure that we are learning from it and get dialed in, the same thing coming out of Week 1.”
The Browns defense was a disappointment all day long and it began on the opening series of the game. The Browns were unable to get off the field on third down three times as Oakland would march down and get on the board first with a Sebastian Janikowski 23-yard field goal. Raiders up 3-0 after the first quarter.
Carr would get the Raiders into the endzone half way through the second quarter when he caps off a 80 yard dive in eleven plays. Carr would hook up with Andre Holmes for a three yard touchdown. Raiders up 10-0.
The Browns offense started to wake up late in the first half. McCown would drive the Browns all the way down to the Raiders one yard line. McCown would connect with tight end Gary Barnidge on a 40-yard pass play and running back Isaiah Crowell would have the only good run of the day of 17-yards to set up first and goal from the one yard line. The Browns could not punch the ball into the endzone on the first three attempts and decide to go for it on fourth and goal. Left guard Joel Bitonio would be called for a costly false start penalty and the Browns would have to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Travis Coons to get the Browns on the board at 10-3 with 1:44 left in the half.
“We really have to finish that thing off and finish it in the end zone,” McCown said. “It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t get the ball snapped. We had the look that we wanted. It appeared on the pictures that it was a touchdown to (RB) Duke (Johnson). We walked in feeling good about that. We didn’t get it. When you move the ball down there that quickly and that effectively, when you don’t finish with seven, it kills some momentum for sure. You always like to get points, no doubt about it, but when you feel like you’re moving the ball as well as we were, you have to finish up with seven. Obviously, we’ll look at those things and all of those plays leading up to where we could have had chances to get in the end zone, and we’ll just clean up the snap on that thing. I’m not worried about that.”
The Browns hoped to only trail by one touchdown heading into the half, but the defense did not hold up their end of the bargain. The Raiders marched right down the field in five plays and put the ball into the endzone. Carr would throw his second touchdown pass of the quarter, this one to Seth Roberts from 13-yards out with just 18 second left. Oakland would lead 17-3 at the half.
“It’s very frustrating,” defensive lineman John Hughes said. “It’s something that we’ve got to work on in practice and get it corrected.”
The second half started to look like a carbon copy of the first half. Janikowski would connect on a 35-yard field goal to increase the Raiders lead to 20-3. The Browns didn’t make a change at quarterback and stay with McCown despite being booed in the first half by the near capacity crowd which also called out chants of ‘Johnny, Johnny’ as in Johnny Manziel who lead the Browns to a win last week over Tennessee.
“As I said during the week, you can’t put a player in a situation where he feels like he’s playing with a short leash; then, it just becomes self-fulfilling,” Pettine said. “We want our quarterback to play well, we have to play better around him.”
“There were “Johnny” chants? I understand the situation that I’m in and this part of it,” McCown said. “He’s an exciting young player that I know people want to see play. I understand that part, but for me, I have to just focus on where we are and what we’re doing. We had our own problems and our own issues just trying to move the ball and so that’s really where my focus is. Just staying present in those situations, you have to block that stuff out. You can’t allow that to become a part of it because then it snowballs. Now, you’re fighting both the crowd and the defense. You have to take that out of it. I’ve been around long enough to have gone through those things, and I feel pretty good about my ability to block that out.”
The Browns ditched the running game and went to a more of a hurry up and passing offense the rest of the way and it appeared to work. McCown would get the Browns into the endzone for the first time on the afternoon with 3:32 remaining in the third quarter. McCown and Barnidge would team up for a 28-yard touchdown pass, and the Browns were back in the game at 20-10. Barnidge finished with a team high 105 yard receiving on six catches and the 28-yard touchdown.
“I was following the gameplan,” Barnidge said. “I think all the other guys that were running their routes were getting me open.”
“Yeah, Gary is Gary. He’s solid. He makes plays when the ball is thrown his way,” McCown said. “We understand that and we need to continue to get him more involved and utilize him even more. We knew we’d have an opportunity with tight ends. We saw what (Bengals TE Tyler) Eifert had done and (Ravens TE Crockett) Gillmore had done against him in Baltimore. We really felt like we could utilize Gary in a big way this game so it was good to get him going.”
“Everybody started to gel together and that was a huge aspect,”Barnidge said. “The leadership that (QB) Josh (McCown) showed in the huddle was great.”
Any momentum the Browns gained with that scoring drive evaporated quickly because the defense allowed the Raiders to get that touchdown right back. Running back Latavius Murray would cap off a seven play 80-yard drive with a six yard touchdown run and Oakland had a three score lead again at 27-10. The Browns had trouble tackling all afternoon long and it played a huge factor in the loss.
“We have to tackle better. We have to get off the field on third downs,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Myself included, everybody, we just have to be way more consistent on defense. We have flashes where we do really good. Then, we have flashes when we don’t play like ourselves. We just have to do it full force.”
“I don’t really think it’s that contagious,” Hughes said. “I think it’s just that the morale gets down and the guys have to be able to pick each other up.”
The Browns rally in the fourth quarter and make the game interesting down the stretch. The Browns scored ten points on their next two offensive possessions to cut the Raiders lead back to seven at 27-20. Coons would connect on a 41-yard field goal and McCown and Travis Benjamin would connect on a four yard touchdown pass when Benjamin stretched out and got the ball across the goal line just before being down by contact.
The defense would step up and give the Browns a chance to tie the game with 4:01 left, but the first of two back breakers would come into play. Benjamin, the reigning AFC special teams player of the week, would fumble the punt near midfield and the Raiders would recover the ball giving Oakland a chance to close out the game.
“The wind got under it a little, and I kind of felt a body beside me, which I thought it was my man but they didn’t call the flag,” Benjamin said. “It was one of those things I feel like I let my team down, and that is one thing I don’t want to do. We have to take advantage of every opportunity. Every time we get the ball, we have to punch it in. The good enough thing was that the defense got us the ball back, and we had another opportunity to score.”
The Raiders went a little conservative on offense and the Browns defense would get another three and out to give the offense one more chance to tie the game. The Raiders would pin the Browns back at their own two yard line to start their final drive. Pettine would challenge the play with just over two minutes remaining to see if a Raiders defender was in the endzone trying to field the punt. Referree Clete Blakeman didn’t see enough evidence to overturn the call so the Browns would have to go 98-yards to tie the game.
McCown lead the offense into Raiders territory. McCown saw a wide open Benjamin down the right sideline in the final minute, but the veteran leader of the defense, and Fremont, Ohio native Charles Woodson read the route and intercepted McCown’s pass that looked to be a bit underthrown. Raiders snap their 11-game road losing streak and 16-game eastern time zone losing streak 27-20.
“It is very frustrating knowing that we were so close,” Benjamin said. “It is kind of frustrating when you start slow and you know you are supposed to start fast. We have to go into San Diego and start fast this time.”
“We allowed them to claw back in the game late,” Woodson said. “I think he (QB Josh McCown) tried to bait me. They put the fastest guy on the field out wide so I made sure to keep my eye on him. They had a chance and someone had to come up with a big play, and I’m happy it was me.”
I was trying to hold Charles with my eyes and I got him where I wanted to,” McCown said. “I just didn’t put enough on the ball. I didn’t put enough on the ball, and we would’ve had a shot. It’s one of those where I’d like to put a little more air on it and go over the top. You have to bet on the safety taking a bad angle and I think we would’ve had it. I just didn’t put enough air on it. I didn’t throw it the way I wanted to throw.”
The Browns fall to 1-2 on the season and travel to the west coast to face Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers next Sunday to begin the difficult portion of their schedule.