News, notes, quotes and observations from the Raiders’ 23-9 loss to the Browns in Cleveland:
— Regular readers of this space as well as participants in weekly on-line chats know I’m not inclined to tear into play-calling, believing it to be not nearly as important as executing whatever plays are called.
Still feel that way, too, although today in Cleveland, the play-calling had a great deal to do with the Raiders again coming up short in a game that was there for the taking.
The worst sequence came with just under five minutes left in the game and the Raiders at the Cleveland 2-yard line with a first down, courtesy of a pass interference call on Hank Poteat.
Four incomplete passes later, the Raiders turned it over on down, including a justified reversal of an Eric Wright interception.
Michael Bush, with nine carries for 50 yards in the first half, spent the second half back in witness protection in terms of touches. He carried once for 2 yards. Apparently a 245-pound back wasn’t of use that close to the goal line.
Frye, who has the mobility and quick feet to operate on the perimeter, instead dropped back. There was no attempt at a run-pass option.
As for Bush, his last carry came with 10:11 left in the third quarter. The Raiders ran 29 plays from that point until the end of the game and he never once got the ball as Oakland abandoned all pretense of the pass with Darren McFadden carrying four times for 14 yards.
— Remember how annoying it was to watch Rob Ryan’s defense give up points by backing off the throttle late in games? Worked like a charm against the Raiders, who piled up completions and yards but no points down the stretch. Again, Bush may have been able to get some momentum against a backpedaling defense.
The Browns spent much of the game mixing and matching, running more blitzes than Ryan would in four games as the Raiders defensive coordinator. Then he had the Browns fall back into a soft zone which came up with a pair of key interceptions.
— Play-calling aside, the game swung on Frye’s first interception, which David Bowens returned 17 yards to set up a 17-yard scoring run by James Harrison, and a defensive meltdown late in the first half which enabled the Browns to strike on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Derek Anderson to Mohamad Massaquoi.
Taking over at their own 7 after a Shane Lechler punt and a half-the-distance offensive holding penalty on the Browns, the Raiders trailed 10-6 and were hoping to get the ball back.
A chippy game erupted at that point, with Richard Seymour and Cleveland’s Rodney Hadnot getting offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties not long after runs of 17 and 2 yards by James Harrison.
Seymour was so incensed he picked up an additional 15 yards for unsportsman-like conduct foul, pushing the ball to the Cleveland 40. Anderson hit Massaquoi for 14 yards, and after a 4-yard run by Harrison, Stanford Routt got another 15-yard foul for unnecessary roughness and was ejected for a head butt.
That put the Browns on the Raiders 27, where they scored three plays later with Anderson hitting Massaquoi from 19 yards out.
The Browns then paid for a squib kick which enabled the Raiders to open at the 42, and after 9 and 6-yard completions from Frye to Zach Miller and McFadden, Sebastian Janikowski boomed a club-record 61-yard field goal – the fourth in league history of 60 yards or more and possibly the most impressive when you take into consideration the wind and 35-degree weather.
— Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha continues to be vexed by the Raiders repeatedly plummeting to earth following a big win. They’ve been outscored 142-32 in the five games following wins, with only the Cleveland game in doubt into the fourth quarter.
“We’ve shown flashes of being a championship-caliber team. We’ve shown flashes of being one of those cellar-dweller type teams,” Asomugha said. “It’s kind of like we haven’t been able to figure out who we wanted to be. If you want to be a contender in this league, you have to have an identity.”
— With five punts for a 44.2 average, Shane Lechler’s season average dropped to 51.1, meaning he’ll need a big game to surpass the NFL record of 51.4 set by Sammy Baugh in 1940.
— The Raiders’ 389-yard yardage output was their second-highest of the season, behind the 396 yards gained against Pittsburgh.
— With 13 penalties for 126 yards, there was some of the “only the Raiders” grumbling which normally accompanies games they lose. Of course, they’ve had some debatable calls in their wins, too, and managed to overcome them. Just as they could have overcome them against Cleveland.
The most ridiculous call may have been the “taunting” flag on Zach Miller, who merely dropped the ball in the direction of a Cleveland player after a 31-yard reception. It wound up not hurting anything because of Poteat’s pass interference call a short time later.
One crucial penalty that went largely unnoticed in the flood of flags to follow belonged to Chris Morris, who replaced an injured Langston Walker at left guard. Pinned at their own 1 with 734 left in the half after Joshua Cribbs tipped a punt back to the 1-yard line, Oakland had moved out to the 38 with a first-and-10.
Morris was called for a hold, which put the ball back on the 28, with a 6-yard sack of Frye pushing it to the 22. The Raiders eventually punted, leading to Cleveland’s late touchdown drive with the help of the 15-yard flags on Seymour and Routt.
— Strangest flag of the day _ tight end Tony Stewart, one of the most level-headed players in the locker room, was ejected for bumping an official. Never saw a replay of that one.
— Here’s a piece of trivia (courtesy of A.P. stat maven Josh Dubow) that ought to turn the stomach of most self-respecting Raider fans: Frye became the second quarterback in Raiders history to throw for 300 yards with three or more interceptions and no touchdown passes in a game. The other? Marc Wilson, with 339 yards and three interceptions in a 16-10 loss to Kansas City on Dec. 13, 1987.