Sunday, September 30, 2018

Self destruct button worn out

 One of these days, or weeks, or months, the Browns are going to win a game on the road. Sunday in Oakland was not one of those days.

In a game that see-sawed back and forth so often and so quickly it made the television viewer dizzy, the Oakland Raiders literally outlasted the Browns in a four-hour marathon slugfest, 45-42 in overtime.

It was a battle of endurance with both teams near exhaustion at the end when Matthew McCrane kicked his third field goal of the game, a 29-yarder with 106 seconds left in the extra session

It was a game that saw Browns rookie running back Nick Chubb touch the ball three times, run for 105 yards and score twice; the Browns successfully convert two of three two-point attempts after touchdowns; and Carlos Hyde’s elbow becoming a turning point.

It also saw Baker Mayfield, in his National Football League starting debut, commit four turnovers against a team that had only one takeaway in its first three games. It included a pick six for the first Oakland touchdown in the opening quarter.

The teams combined for 1,052 yards of offense, 48 first downs, 165 snaps and six turnovers as the lead and momentum swung back and forth all day.

The victory snapped the Raiders’ season-opening three-game losing streak and extended the Browns’ road woes to 23 games dating back to the 2015 season when they beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime. That was 1,085 days ago.

The loss also prevented the Browns from winning their second game in a row, something they haven’t done since the 2014 season when they put together a three-game win streak (this is not a typo) in a 12-day period from Oct. 26 to Nov. 6,

There were numerous points of the latest loss when Browns fans thought they had the game wrapped up, only to watch them fall completely apart at the most inappropriate time and allow the Raiders back in the game.

They extended a 17-14 halftime lead to 28-14 lead midway through the third quarter and looked positively golden after forcing an Oakland punt. And this is where the game took a decidedly and unexpectedly sharp turn for the worse.

The Raiders turned a 14-point deficit into a 34-28 lead, taking full advantage of a Cleveland offense that all of a sudden could do nothing right. The main culprit was Mayfield, looking nothing like the confident and self-assured quarterback 10 days ago in the New York Jets victory..

It began with a losing fumble as the kid attempted to pass near his goal line and was stripped and ended with a three-and-out during a five-possession stretch during which the Raiders scored 20 unanswered points.

In between were two more three-and-outs and a fumbled snap by Mayfield when lining up under center after center JC Tretter inadvertently snapped before his quarterback was ready.

The Raiders began drives at the Cleveland seven and 20, gifting an Oakland offense that had struggled up to that point, managing only seven points until the Browns’ offense practiced generosity.

Somehow, though, the mistake-prone offense somehow found a resilience that regained the momentum, displaying a characteristic that has been missing from Browns teams for lo these many, many years,

Moments after McCrane upped the Oakland lead to 34-28, Mayfield hooked up with fellow rookie Antonio Callaway, who up to that point was having a miserable afternoon with regard to holding on to  the football, on a 59-yard pass and run that led  to the go-ahead touchdown and a one-point lead.

And just like that, the Cleveland offense was back in business, One defensive stop later, it was time for Chubb, who ripped off a 63-yard run for the first Cleveland touchdown in the second quarter on a beautifully executed counter play.

This time, Chubb climaxed a three-play, 63-yard drive with a 41yard scoring burst to extend the lead to eight seemingly safe points with 4:20 left in regulation, especially after forcing a punt with 1:51 left and the Raiders back to struggle stage.

That’s where Hyde’s elbow enters the picture. Three straight handoffs to the big back supposedly garnered 10 yards and the Raiders by then had exhausted their timeouts. It appeared as though Oakland quarterback Derek Carr’s three-touchdown, two-pick afternoon wasn’t good enough to stop the losing.

Hyde appeared to make the first down at the Cleveland 19 by the nose of the ball after a measurement. The replay official reversed the initial ruling of first down, ruling Hyde’s elbow hit the ground before the ball crossed the plane of the first-down marker.

The Raiders began their final drive from their 47 after a 14-yard punt return. It was yet another special teams breakdown that led to good field position against a defense that was tired.  Whatever Cleveland momentum regained up to that point was gone.

It took the revived Raiders seven plays and 58 seconds to travel 53 yards, tight end Jared Cook, who had been a thorn all afternoon along with Amari Cooper, gathering in a Carr toss from seven yards for his second score of the day.

Browns fans at that point could almost sense what was going to happen next as the Raiders needed a successful two-point try to force overtime.  Sure enough, Carr lofted a fade to reliable veteran Jordy Nelson, who outfought Browns cornerback T. J. Carrie for the football.

By overtime, the Cleveland offense was completely shot (probably worn out from scoring so many points) registering its sixth three-and-out on its lone overtime possession in the 18-possession afternoon.

The Raiders went 70 yards in nine plays, converting two third downs along the way, McCrane putting an end to the misery with a 29-yard field goal.

The loss is difficult to swallow, especially since the Browns, who have struggled offensively for the better part of two decades, crashed the 40-point barrier for the first time since 2009, when they knocked off the Chiefs, 41-34, in Kansas City.

So the beat goes on, but this time Browns fans know better days are not that far off. The offense, once it jells, is capable of putting points on the board in a hurry. The defense, which was victimized by the offense against the Raiders with costly turnovers, is a lot better than it showed Sunday.

Sometimes, a losing experience like this can act as an object lesson to a young football team. Most of the important pieces are in place with this roster. It now is just a matter of honing them to turn a game like Sunday into a victory next time.

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