It ended up being too little, too late in the Cleveland Browns' 27-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
In a wild turn of events that found the Browns only trailing by a touchdown with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Cleveland was in position to overcome a muddled afternoon and catapult its record to 2-1. The hero a week ago against Tennessee, Travis Benjamin muffed a punt at midfield and Oakland recovered. But in a game it probably had no business being in, Cleveland remarkably had one last chance.
Oakland milked the clock following Benjamin's fumble and downed its ensuing punt at the 2-yard line. With 2:23 remaining and the Raiders in prevent defense, Cleveland attempted to dink and dunk the ball down the field – and it was working. But future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson intercepted McCown's final pass to seal the deal for the Raiders.
A sloppy start from Cleveland's offense had a suffocating effect on the unit against the Raiders. McCown had early accuracy issues on a 28-for-49, 341-yard, two-touchdown day, the offensive line wasn't getting pushback and the running game was stuck in neutral (14 carries for 39 yards), forcing the Browns to abandon the ground game in the second half.
The Browns' defense was just as culpable in the loss.
Oakland generated four separate plays of at least 35 yards, all from different players. Rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper gave the secondary fits on eight receptions for 134 yards. Quarterback Derek Carr was barely pressured, wasn't sacked and delivered throw after throw on a 20-for-32, 314-yard, two-touchdown day. Running back Latavius Murray rushed for 139 yards, a career-high.
Trailing 27-13 midway through the fourth quarter, the Browns awoke from a lull. Joe Haden and Christian Kirksey combined to force a fumble, Karlos Dansby recovered it and McCown fired a 4-yard touchdown to Benjamin. The score cut the lead to 27-20 and had the Dawg Pound revved up momentarily.
But ill-timed Cleveland miscues, like the Benjamin fumble, ultimately sunk the Browns' record to 1-2 on Sunday.
Trailing 20-3 midway through the third quarter, the Browns were desperate for a touchdown, and McCown finally delivered. A 13-play, 80-yard drive ended in a 28-yard touchdown reception from tight end Gary Barnidge, who hauled in a career-high six catches for 105 yards.
Momentum finally felt like it could be shifting Cleveland's way.
In a blink of an eye, the Raiders squashed the energy. Fullback Marcel Reese took a routine flare pass 56 yards up the sideline, plunging through several Cleveland missed tackles. Murray emphatically ended the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run and a 27-10 Oakland lead.
After a 67-yard Andy Lee punt pinned the Raiders up against their own goal line to begin the third quarter, Murray galloped 54 yards right through Cleveland's run defense. The slashing run only resulted in a Sebastian Janikowski 35-yard field goal, but it upped the lead to 20-3 and crippled what little momentum the Browns were clinging to.
A Barkevious Mingo roughing the punter penalty in the second quarter turned an Oakland three-and-out into an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Carr to Andre Holmes.
When the Browns were finally able to move the football late in the second quarter by way of a 40-yard snag from Barnidge, a false start penalty on fourth-and-goal wiped out a chance at a touchdown. Cleveland settled for a 24-yard field goal from Coons, but the defense was met by a Raider firestorm. In five quick plays, Carr had Oakland dancing in the end zone again, this time on a perfectly lofted 13-yard pass to Seth Roberts over a diving Kirksey.
The Raiders' game plan of attacking through the air was established from the opening whistle. On the opening drive of the game, Carr rapidly propelled Oakland's offense down the field alongside three Cooper receptions for 54 yards on Haden.
When the field shrunk for Oakland near the goal line, the Browns defense tightened like a vice. Two run plays from Murray were snuffed out and Carr sailed an errant pass on third down. Forcing an early 23-yard field goal from Janikowski was a small battle won at the time, but it had little impact in the war on Sunday.
The Browns will have to try and regroup – and in a hurry. Two tough road games are looming in San Diego and Baltimore.