It wasn't pretty, like the win over the Steelers. It wasn't heart-pounding, like wins against the Saints or Titans. But it doesn't matter: the Cleveland Browns prevailed 23-13 over the Oakland Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium to improve their record to 4-3 on the season.
For the first three quarters of the game, neither offense asserted themselves. The Browns had plenty of drives down the field, led by Brian Hoyer, who was 19 of 28 for 275 yards and a touchdown. But they all stalled for various reasons. It was a busy day for Billy Cundiff who nailed three first-half field goals. Luckily for Cleveland, Oakland was even more out of sync. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr led two quick-strike drives that led to field goals late in the first half, but his receivers had trouble getting open and the Browns' run defense shored up loose ends we've seen in recent weeks.
Then the ugly power struggle ended and the tides shifted dramatically. Right as the third quarter was set to expire, the Raiders were methodically marching down the field and looked like they were going to take the lead. But on a Darren McFadden scamper up the middle, Donte Whitner got his helmet on the sweet spot, sending the football fluttering into the air. Joe Haden plucked the ball and alertly ran 34 yards up the field.
The very next play, Andrew Hawkins broke free deep into the Raiders secondary and Hoyer found him for 32 yards. Three plays later Hawkins was dancing in the end zone after another Hoyer pass, this time a 4-yarder. Ben Tate would add a 5-yard touchdown midway through the fourth after Barkevious Mingo forced a Carr fumble deep in Oakland territory.
The sequence of events left the Raiders (0-7) lifeless. Cleveland was able to assert their playmaking ability when it mattered most, and bury an inferior opponent.
MVP: The Browns defense
In the first half, when the Browns needed a play to be made, the defense rose up. Paul Kruger demolished Darren McFadden on four-yard tackle for a loss early in the first quarter to get the Dawg Pound jumping and finished the game with two sacks, upping his total to four on the year. Ahtyba Rubin made his return the lineup a loud one, batting a third-down Derek Carr pass that nearly ended up in the hands of Karlos Dansby for an interception. Late in the first half, Justin Gilbert perfectly timed a deflection, forcing the Raiders to settle for a field goal instead of a possible touchdown. These plays seemed subtle at the time but ended up making the all difference.
Most bizarre play
The Raiders drove down the field on the opening possession of the game, with relative ease. Eventually. the Browns forced a fourth-and-12 and Oakland tried to fool Cleveland by trotting out backup quarterback Matt Schaub as the punter. The ensuing snap to Schaub rolled on the turf and in a moment of desperation, Schaub launched up a prayer, that ended up right in the hands of Tashaun Gipson. It was the safety's fifth interception of the season and although the Browns only turned it into three points, it shifted the momentum Cleveland's way.
Brian Hoyer responds
It wasn't an MVP performance by any means, but Hoyer was mostly the only source of offense for Cleveland. For the second straight week, the Browns' normally potent rushing attack was silenced, gaining only 40 yards and averaging 1.7 yards per carry, putting the pressure on Hoyer. This week against the Raiders, the veteran signal-caller was steady, finding holes in the Raiders' defense and executing many well-timed wide receiver screen plays – a 48-yarder from Taylor Gabriel setup a field goal. There were some interceptions that the Raiders dropped but if Hoyer didn't play well, the Browns easily could've lost this game.