CLEVELAND - Maybe the Cleveland Browns' luck at home is finally starting to change.
In a scene eerily reminiscent of other frustrating afternoons at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Browns waited with their hearts in their throats for several minutes as referee Johnny Grier reviewed a play that would decide their fate Sunday afternoon.
Their long-suffering fans waited, too, bottles cocked in hands, only this time a controversial decision went in their favor, allowing the Browns to escape with a 13-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
"Just a typical Browns' day, huh?," Browns coach Butch Davis said with a smile.
It was typical in that it was another last-second thriller. It was also atypical in that the final chapter of a home game included a happy ending for the Browns.
With just 23 seconds on the clock, Grier upheld a call on the field, claiming instant replay did not show conclusively that future Hall-of-Fame receiver Jerry Rice managed to stay in bounds while catching a critical fourth-down pass near the sideline. Instead of converting a 4th-and-1 and continuing a potential game-winning drive, the Raiders turned the ball over on downs, effectively ending the game.
"We couldn't tell if (Rice's) knee was knee was in our out of bounds," said Grier. "The official on the field ruled that his knee was out of bounds. I was looking for something to show me that the knee was in our out, and I didn't have it."
Rice couldn't believe the ruling, complaining, "there is no way. That is something I practice all the time. Unless I am too old, or too senile (to know) ... I caught the ball."
Daylon McCutcheon, the Browns cornerback who was defending the Raiders' 19-year veteran on the play, couldn't believe the ruling either, but not for the same reason.
"I just figured he's a future Hall-of-Famer, so if anybody is going to get that kind of call, he is," said McCutcheon. "The whole time while they were reviewing it, I was getting ready to go back out on defense, then they said it wasn't a catch, and the place just went crazy."
In truth, the Raiders lost the game for several reasons, not just on a controversial decision by a referee. They shot themselves in the foot so many times, drawing a whopping 19 penalty flags for 128 yards, they could have limped back to California on a bloody stump.
The Raiders also had no answer for a Cleveland ground game that is finally starting to hit its stride.
William Green became the first Browns running back to rush for over 100 yards in consecutive weeks since Kevin Mack in 1986, running through the Raiders defense for 145 yards on 26 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown in the final seconds of the third quarter.
That score was set up by a little razzle-dazzle by the Browns special teams.
Trailing 7-3 with 45 seconds on the third-quarter clock, the Browns lined up for a 36-yard field goal on fourth-and-6. Holder Chris Gardocki took the snap, then pitched to kicker Phil Dawson, who raced down the right sideline for a 14-yard gain before being pushed out of bounds.
"I did the math in my head," said Dawson. "I knew it was fourth-and-six at the 19, so I had the 13-yard line pegged in the back of my mind. I just said get to the 13 and whatever happens after that, happens ... I was trying to change directions, but my belly carried me out of bounds."
On the next play, Green bolted over the left side of the line for a 5-yard touchdown that put the Browns ahead 10-7.
Dawson did go through with two field goals, kicking a 53-yarder in the second quarter and a 32-yarder with 2:32 remaining in the game after an 80-yard drive that featured some hard running by Green.
The Browns' final drive started at their own 7-yard line, but after five straight runs by Green, they found themselves knocking at the Raiders door at the 28.
"That was probably the first drive I've ever had as a football player where I didn't want to throw the ball," said Browns quarterback Tim Couch. "Usually I want the ball in my hand, but our offensive line was blowing them off the ball, and William was just gashing them run after run. That drive was about William Green and the offensive line and it was just a thing of beauty to sit back and watch."
Couch improved his record to 2-1 as the Browns' starting quarterback since returning to the job while Kelly Holcomb nurses a broken leg. He wasn't spectacular, but he efficiently ran the Browns offense in completing 16-of-26 passes for 127 yards with no interceptions.
The Browns defense was spectacular. After allowing a touchdown on a 10-yard pass by Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon to tight end Teyo Johnson, the Browns pitched a shutout. And that lone touchdown came only after Green lost a fumble at the Browns' 24-yard line on the fourth play of the game's opening possession.
McCutcheon and the Browns' secondary shut down the superstar wide-receiver tandem of Rice and Tim Brown, allowing them to combine for only four catches for 33 yards, all in the second half.
"It was just an honor to play against those guys because they are going to be in the Hall of Fame," said McCutcheon, who spent most of his day lining up opposite Rice. "It was something special just to play against them, but to play well against them meant even more."