Derry: Battle of the Also-Rans

The Browns will look back on Sunday's game as being on they should have won...

Cleveland vs. Oakland, Part 2.

Just as the Cleveland Indians were clinching the American League Central Division title by defeating the Oakland A's 6-2 Sunday afternoon, the Cleveland Browns took the field against the Oakland Raiders to complete the unusual baseball-football "doubleheader."

The Browns were hoping to prove they are not too far from winning a division title of their own and that their stunning victory over Cincinnati a week earlier was no fluke.

Instead, what they proved was that even when playing against one of the NFL weaklings, they are not good enough to overcome a plethora of mistakes that included numerous penalties, costly turnovers, blown pass coverages, missed tackles and the inability to hit wide-open receivers.

Amazingly, despite doing all of the above, the Browns still had a chance to win on the game's final play. But after a last-second time out called by Raiders to try and ice veteran Phil Dawson, Oakland's defensive line broke through to block Dawson's kick, thus preserving Oakland's 26-24 victory. It was the exact opposite of what had happened to the Raiders the previous week against the Denver Broncos.

Sunday's win snapped the Raiders' 11-game losing streak that dated back to Oct. 29, 2006 and kept the Browns from winning two straight for the first time in the Romeo Crennel era. The last time the Browns were victorious in two straight games was under Butch Davis when they beat the Steelers 33-13 on Oct. 5, 2003, followed a week later by a 13-7 win over the Raiders.

At season's end, Crennel, his staff and players will look back upon this game as one they could have, probably even should have, won. In many ways, this looked like a game pitting two of the NFL's also-rans.

The Browns pretty much self-destructed offensively during the first half, leading to a 16-0 deficit with two minutes to play before halftime. The only reason the Browns were even in the game was because the defense was able to hold the Raiders to just one touchdown and three field goals.

But the momentum, which was on the Raiders' side for the first 27 minutes of the first half, suddenly took a seat on the Browns' bench when dynamic Joshua Cribbs dashed and darted his way 99 yards with the kickoff return, thus narrowing the deficit to 16-7 with 1:53 to play in the half.

Two plays later the Browns recovered a fumble which they converted into a Dawson field goal, thus cutting the deficit to 16-10 despite a first half that included seven penalties and a Derek Anderson interception.

In all, the Browns managed just 102 yards in the first half, 51 on the ground and 51 in the air. In no way, shape or form did they resemble of the offensive juggernaut that had rolled up 51 points against the Bengals seven days earlier.

The Browns' offense finally came to life in the third quarter, thanks to one of Anderson's best throws of the year. He looked off the Raiders' safety,who broke to his left, then fired a perfect strike to Braylon Edwards for the go-ahead score.

Suddenly, almost without warning, the Browns looked to be in good shape to gain their second straight victory as they took a 17-16 lead. Further enhancing the chances of victory was the fact Raiders starting quarterback Josh McCown was forced to sit out the second half with a foot injury.

That left rusty Dante Culpepper, who has been sidelined with a knee injury for two years, to lead the Raiders' offense.

But the Browns couldn't take advantage of the situation, due in large part to the fact the run defense couldn't get the job done. On the Raiders' ensuing drive, they put together a nine-minute, six-second, 1 80-yard drive in 15 plays, 13 of which were on the ground. As the third quarter clock ran down, the Browns found themselves on the short end of a 23-17 score.

No doubt, the defense on that 80-yard drive was bad. But what was worse were two plays in the fourth quarter that simply defied logic.

On a third-and-23 play, the Raiders called what seemed to be a safe screen play designed to avoid a costly turnover while picking up a few yards. Instead, it turned into a big play as Lamont Jordan managed to avoid several would-be tacklers and convert the first down. That set up what turned out to be the winning field goal.

Then, after the Browns cut the deficit to 26-24, the defense allowed Culpepper to complete a first-down pass on third-and-nine to Jerry Porter with less than three minutes to play. While that didn't lead to a score, it allowed the Raiders to run nearly two more minutes off the clock and also forced the Browns to burn all of their timeouts.

The inability to come up with defensive stops is usually the difference between a good defense and one that still has a great deal of room for improvement. The Browns definitely need to step things up from a defensive standpoint because they aren't likely to see too many more offenses as woeful as that of the Raiders. 

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