A lot of people are going to pin today’s 24-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders to the special teams of the Cleveland Browns.
After all, 14 of the Raiders’ 24 points came as a result of a 102-yard kickoff return by Jacoby Ford and a 35-yard pass on a fake field goal attempt by punter/holder Shane Lechler to Kevin Boss.
Certainly, the special teams play wasn’t up to the standards of the past few seasons, but Oakland would have probably made the field goal anyway and increased their lead to 20-7 at the time of the gadget play.
The only thing that made this game competitive until the end was the curious decision by Raiders’ coach Hue Jackson to eschew a field goal late in the game which could have put the game away, giving Oakland a 27-10 lead. Jackson will get second-guessed on that move without a doubt.
Other than that, it was back to the formula that has kept this franchise from winning since 1999: Can’t run the ball, can’t stop the run.
Early in the game, the defense couldn’t get off the field, allowing the silver and black a 15 play, 88 yard drive, which featured four third down conversions. Until QB Jason Campbell fumbled on the ensuing possession, it didn’t appear Dick Jauron’s defenders had an answer for the Raider offense.
Things did change after Campbell left the game with a reported broken collarbone, and was replaced by Kyle Boller, who formerly flunked out in Baltimore. Boller was not very accurate and allow the Browns to focus more on the run.
One problem that did develop was CB Dimitri Patterson gave Raider WR Darius Heyward-Bey huge cushions allowing easy completions for Boller on 10-15 yard patterns. Heyward-Bey is fast, but too much respect was given a guy who has done little in the NFL in his three-year career.
Still, they couldn’t get the big turnover as Oakland controlled the game on the ground, gaining 151 yards rushing on 40 carries. They did come close once, when DE Jabaal Sheard strip sacked Boller in Cleveland territory, but the Raider QB fell on the ball to set up the touchdown on the fake field goal.
By contrast, the Browns ran the ball 21 times for just 65 yards. When they fell behind by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, they had to abandon the run and put the ball in the air.
On offense, Cleveland looked rushed and bothered the entire game by the blitzing of the Raiders. Colt McCoy was hit too many times, and when he was able to throw the football, he showed the inaccuracy he’s exhibited this entire season.
He completed just 21 of 45 throws for 215 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but he did fumble in the second half to set up a field goal.
Once again, the Browns came out and looked unprepared to play. This has been a recurring theme during the season. After two weeks of preparation, that shouldn’t be the case.
Still, after the lengthy drive on their first possession, Cleveland did take advantage of the Campbell fumble to tie the game on a 1-yard pass to TE Alex Smith.
Unfortunately, the kickoff return gave Oakland back the lead, an advantage they never relinquished.
There were a few good things to come from the game. Rookie WR Greg Little, in his first start, caught six passes for 75 yards, and fellow rooks Sheard, and DT Phil Taylor both had sacks. MLB D’Qwell Jackson continued his standout season with nine more tackles.
The Browns now have Seattle visiting next week, and need a win to get back to .500. They are last in the AFC North, the only team in the division to have lost three games.
Some improvement was expected after the bye week, but it didn’t reveal itself. The Browns were beaten in every phase of the game in Oakland.