The 27-20 final score made Josh McCown’s first full game as a Brown seem much closer than it actually was.
For the first three quarters, the sluggish home team looked like the one that traveled across the country to play in a hostile environment. McCown did little against the Oakland Raiders to silence the rising chorus of voices calling for Johnny Manziel. He led the Browns to only 3 points in the first 42 minutes of the game, receiving almost no help from a running game that totaled only 39 yards on the day.
Late in the second half, McCown led the Browns in a furious comeback after falling behind by 17. Tight End Gary Barnidge caught 6 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown on his way to a career day. Travis Benjamin scored his 5th touchdown in 3 games, though his costly muff brought to mind his struggles with fielding punts last year.
McCown’s stat line for the day looked respectable enough. He hit on 28 of 49 attempts for well nearly 350 yards and 2 touchdowns, but the vast majority of that came after the Raiders had already built their insurmountable 20-3 lead. He did not help the inevitable comparisons to Manziel by missing Benjamin late twice when he was wide open, especially when the breakout wide receiver was clearly behind the defense and outran McCown’s arm at least once. He ended the game with an interception to safety Charles Woodson on Oakland’s 12 yard line with 38 seconds to go. With tougher opponents looming on the schedule, it was not the type of performance that inspired confidence in McCown.
Meanwhile the defense offered little resistance to the suddenly potent Raiders offense, allowing them to drive the field at will for much of the game. The Raiders scored on drives of 72, 80, 70, 76, and 80 yards in 5 of their first 7 possessions. Even the special teams seemed overwhelmed, contributing a key penalty that kept a Raiders’ scoring drive alive after it stalled and committing a critical turnover late in the game.
After a promising first half, the defense continued to struggle against the run, giving up 155 yards on the ground at an average of 5.2 yards per carry, most of it by running back Latavius Murray, who gashed the Browns for runs of 20 and 54 yards. The Raiders also victimized the Browns secondary. Cornerback Joe Haden had an especially forgettable outing. Two weeks after giving up 5 of 6 targets and a touchdown to Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, Haden was reduced to a spectator as Raiders rookie wideout Amari Cooper caught 8 of 11 targets for 134 yards and a touchdown, though 40 of those yards came against Donte Whitner in a coverage mismatch. Overall, Raiders second year quarterback Derek Carr connected on 20 of 32 pass attempts for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns.
With the Browns trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, the defense forced the Raiders into a short, uneventful possession that would have ended on their own 25 yard line if not for Barkevious Mingo’s roughing the punter penalty that gave the ball back to the visiting team. The Raiders took advantage, marching down the field to score a touchdown that put them up 10-0. They would later extend their advantage to leads of 20-3 and 27-10 that the Browns could never overcome.
Other Key Moments
– After the Browns kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 10-3 just before halftime, the defense collapsed, allowing the Raiders to gain 56 yards in 2 plays. They subsequently scored, leaving the Browns down 14 at the break. This is the second time in three games that the defense has wilted against a two minute drill.
– With momentum on their side, the Browns would have had over four minutes on the clock and the ball near midfield to start their last drive if not for Benjamin’s muff. Instead, the offense started from their own 2 yard line with less than two and half minutes left. McCown might have thrown a late game interception anyway, but time was definitely a factor.
Keys to the Defeat:
– McCown. The Raiders came into Cleveland surrendering 33 points a game. It was unreasonable to expect the Browns to match the output of better offensive teams, but only managing 3 for the first 42 minutes created a mountain that was too high to climb. McCown’s early game rust contributed heavily to this. In the Browns first 5 drives, he completed only 6 of 14 pass attempts for 94 yards, while taking 2 sacks. After this, he completed 22 of 35 attempts with 2 touchdowns and the late game interception, but it was too little, too late.
– The run defense allowed 5 yards less than its season average of 160 per game. In addition, it allowed 314 passing yards. There a not many NFL teams that will win if they give up close to 500 yards to their opponents. The Browns are not one of them.
– Lose the turnover battle, lose the game. For a long time, this looked like it would be one of those games that bucked that trend because the Browns converted the Raiders lone turnover into net +7, but had not committed one with 4 minutes remaining. In that 4 minutes, however, they committed two costly ones, including the one that ended the game. If McCown had not thrown the interception there, they still might have lost since they were facing 3rd and 14, but the interception ended any hope.
The Browns travel to San Diego to face the 1-2 San Diego Chargers, who have lost 2 on the road following their opening day victory over the Lions. Quarterback Philip Rivers has a 100.5 passer rating on the young season. Chargers lead the all time series against the Browns 14-8-1, with a 5-2 record against them since 1999. Both Browns victories occurred in Cleveland, so they have never won in Qualcomm Stadium. Coach Mike Pettine has not addressed whether McCown will start, but I expect that his respectable stat line will keep him under center. The loss against the Raiders dropped the veteran quarterback to 18-36 as a starter.