CLEVELAND – Raiders running back Darren McFadden burst through an open hole, sprinted nine yards and lowered his shoulder for contact. Cleveland Browns safety Donte Whitner got low enough to put a helmet/shoulder on the football. It shot out of McFadden’s hands, right to Brown cornerback Joe Haden, who returned it 34 yards.
The Browns scored a touchdown four plays later.
It was the defining sequence of a 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. Raiders are 0-7 heading into a brutal stretch that includes road games at Seattle and San Diego, which sandwich a home game versus Denver. Given the Raiders play and the daunting schedule ahead, going 0-16 is becoming a more realistic.
Sunday's loss was another case of Oakland beating Oakland in the clutch.
The crazy part in all this: The Raiders didn’t play too bad, especially on defense. The NFL’s worst third-down defense was 10-of-12 against Cleveland. The No. 31-ranked run defense held the Browns to 39 yards. They had several chances to create turnovers, but each opportunity passed with capitalization.
There were too many miscues, by players and coaches alike to give the Raiders a real shot at victory.
The teams exchanged field goals in the first half, with Cleveland headed to the locker room with a 9-6 advantage. Cleveland’s Billy Cundiff hit on three attempts. Sebastian Janikowski was perfect on two, though another was taken away with an odd fourth down play (explanation below) that resulted in an interception.
Victory was there for the taking before that fateful sequence. The Raiders were driving downfield, eating 62 yards on 12 plays to set a game-tying field goal at the very least. A go-ahead touchdown was ever-so-close.
Then disaster struck, the Browns went up two scores and the Raiders only managed to score on a last-minute 10-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Andre Holmes to cut the deficit to 10.
Fake FG goes horribly wrong: The Raiders got cute on their first drive, where a 56-yard field goal was abandoned. The Raiders shuffled formation, sent kicker Sebastian Janikowski out wide and fired a long snap to holder/backup quarterback Matt Schaub.
The snap sailed wide, Schaub scrambled to recover, he sent a sailing volley toward Mychal Rivera that was intercepted Tashaun Gipson and returned 35 yards.
It was Schaub’s first regular-season pass as a Raider and it didn’t go well, but he was put in a difficult situation.
DJ’s defensive cameo: Cornerback DJ Hayden was active for the first time this season, and wasn’t expected to play much defense. He didn’t, but came near the goal line, got picked and ultimately allowed the decisive touchdown.
A fine coming for Ross?: Raiders strong safety Brandian Ross was flagged for unnecessary roughness in the second quarter for a hit on tight end Jordan Cameron that appeared to include helmet-to-helmet contact.
Cameron was tended to on the field before being taken into the locker room and diagnosed with a concussion.
The NFL frowns on contact on a defenseless receiver and certainly could draw a fine from the league.
Injury update: Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter and did not return to the game.
Right tackle Menelik Watson, who had a third straight start, had a shoulder injury that put Khalif Barnes into the game in the third quarter.
Injuries will be updated further later Sunday night.
Sitting it out: Fullback Marcel Reece, end Justin Tuck and tackle Khalif Barnes were active after missing last week and being listed as questionable on this week’s injury report.
Quarterback Matt McGloin, guard Tony Bergstrom, tackle Matt McCants, receiver Vincent Brown, tight end David Ausberry, cornerback Keith McGill and linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu were formally ruled inactive.
What's next: The Raiders’ road gets a lot tougher going forward. They travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks next week, with a home game against Denver and a contest at San Diego after that. The Seahawks are in turmoil, but they’re still talented and near-impossible to beat at home.