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Demoralizing defeat in Oakland

Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson caps off a 94-yard drive with a touchdown while defended by Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler during the fourth quarter in Oakland, on Sunday, December 2, 2012.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat
Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 4:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 10:29 p.m.

OAKLAND — After the Raiders' most recent failure, a 20-17 loss to the Browns at O.co Coliseum on Sunday, it's entirely fair to ask: Is there anyone these guys can beat?

Not Cleveland, which entered the game with a 3-8 record and scored its first road victory in 13 tries. Probably not 2-10 Jacksonville; the Raiders beat the Jaguars here earlier in the season, but narrowly, and only after the visitors lost their starting quarterback and star running back early in the game. The lowly Chiefs? You would think so — Oakland already did it once — but Kansas City delivered an emotional win over Carolina on Sunday.

The Raiders (3-9) have lost five in a row, and as the season reaches its endgame, it becomes clearer and clearer that this team is among the NFL's worst. The Raiders are guaranteed a losing record after back-to-back 8-8 seasons, and have been mathematically eliminated from the 2012 playoffs.

“It's frustrating any time you lose in the National Football League,” coach Dennis Allen said. “It doesn't matter who you lose to. Yeah, it's frustrating. We have to go back to work.”

The key sequence came a little more than five minutes into the fourth quarter. The Raiders had fought back from a 10-point deficit, were down 13-10 and had moved to the Browns' 33-yard line when Carson Palmer dropped back to pass on first-and-10. The quarterback tried to loft the ball to Juron Criner along the left sideline, but let it hang a bit and Cleveland's Sheldon Brown intercepted at the 6-yard line.

“We can't turn the ball over like that,” Allen said. “We've got all the momentum, we're moving the ball, and we can't have that self-inflicted wound right there. It's not there, we've got to get rid of it.”

The Browns were 94 yards from the Oakland end zone, and there was plenty of time for the Raiders to get the ball back and try again. But Brandon Weeden, Cleveland's 29-year-old rookie quarterback, coolly led his team down the field in 14 plays, converting a fourth-and-1 at the Oakland 45 to keep the march going.

He had some help from the Raiders defense. Rookie linebacker Miles Burris missed a tackle on tight end Jordan Cameron that led to a 23-yard gain, fill-in middle linebacker Omar Gaither missed a chance at running back Trent Richardson that cost Oakland 8 yards and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant was guilty of a neutral-zone infraction on third-and-1 from the Raiders' 10 yard line.

Richardson punched it in from 3 yards out on a cutback run and gave Cleveland a 20-10 lead with 3:27 left.

“That's like death by a thousand cuts,” Gaither said. “It's like you get 'em third-and-short, third-and-short, and they keep making it happen. That 94-yarder really hurt us. Just got to be able to get off the field.”

The Raiders fought back for a touchdown, but they got it with one second remaining, not nearly enough time for a genuine comeback. Sebastian Janikowski's onside-kick attempt went out of bounds, and Weeden took a knee from victory formation on the final snap.

Even Oakland's successful final drive will be questioned. Needing both a touchdown and a field goal, it might have made more sense to let Janikowski try a kick from the Browns 15-yard line with 32 seconds left, which would have provided the Raiders a small chance at a late touchdown had they recovered the onside kick.

“We thought about it,” said Allen, who coached under a dark cloud with his ailing father in a Texas hospital. “But we were down there trying to get seven points there. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time on the clock to be able to execute an onside kick and still have time.”

Anyway, this loss came down to more than clock strategy. Cleveland entered the game 27th in the league in total offense, but erupted for 475 — their most since the second week of the 2007 season — against Oakland. The Raiders didn't tackle well or cover consistently.

Weeden completed 25 of 36 passes for 364 yards, the highest total of his young career. He threw two interceptions — to Matt Giordano at the Oakland 3-yard line on the Browns' first possession, and to Phillip Adams at the Raiders' 8 late in the second quarter — but also connected with Josh Gordon for a 44-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline that singed cornerback Ron Bartell and gave the Browns a 10-0 lead.

Allen's first year as head coach has recently spiraled from mediocre to brutal. There were a lot of empty seats at the Coliseum on Sunday after a night of deluge, and those who risked getting wet — it actually turned out to be a beautiful day — offered a scattering boos to the event.

“We're still fighting,” Burris said. “We're gonna keep swinging the rest of the season, no matter what happens. Adversity hits and it strikes, and a man reacts in that situation, and a man gets up and fights, and that's what we're doing.”

But the picture doesn't get any prettier for the Raiders, at least not right away, with the Denver Broncos — newly crowned as the AFC West champions — coming to town for a Thursday-night contest.

“There's nowhere to go but up, unfortunately,” Palmer said. “The good thing is we get to play fast. We don't have to think about it for very long. ... Nothing cures a five-game skid like a win at home on Thursday night against a team like that.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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