By Paul Wexler
RaiderBeat.com Staff Writer
CLEVELAND — Yellow was the color of the day. Numerous penalties were called against the Raiders in their game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, though only 13 were accepted. Along the way, cornerback Stanford Routt and tight end Tony Stewart were ejected for flagrant fouls.
“The intensity was all directed toward us,” defensive lineman Richard Seymour said of the rash of penalties. “Maybe the Raider mystique. I think they were all directed toward us. You never want to go into the game prejudged what you’re going to do, and we felt that is the way the game happened.”
The offense was able to move the ball but three interceptions kept the Raiders from scoring touchdowns against a subpar Browns defense. Raiders quarterback Charlie Frye finished with 333 yards passing, but he certainly would have traded all those yards for more points in a game the Raiders lost 23-9.
“We were moving the ball a lot, in the second half especially, but just could not finish it,” Frye said afterward. “Cleveland did a good job of, when it came down to crunch time they made the plays and we didn’t. The one Eric (Wright) had, we tried to hurry up and run a quick play, and he did a good job of snookering me. I could have swore he was blitzing, and he turned it around at the last second and got it. (Brandon McDonald) got one in the red zone too. I just underthrew it, by a foot … and that makes a big difference in this league. A foot short means an int(erception), so that the way it is.”
Tight end Zach Miller returned to play after missing a week due to the symptoms from a second concussion. He picked up right where he left off, catching nine balls for 110 yards. Every team knows the Raiders quarterbacks are going to throw the ball to Miller and yet, week in and week out, Miller seems to lead the team in receptions.
This season, he has 59 receptions for 767 yards. He likely lost the opportunity for a 1,000-yard season when he missed the Denver game.
“You’ve got to score touchdowns,” Miller said. “Three field goals isn’t going to cut it. Those got to be touchdowns and then when we’re down there, we get so many chances to get back in it and we just don’t do it. We don’t convert down there.”
Once the Browns got the lead, they were able to run the ball with new-found toy Jerome Harrison. He burst onto the scene with a 286-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Kansas City Chiefs one week ago. This week he added 148 yards on a franchise-record 39 carries.
“I think that he’s someone that’s continued to improve throughout this season,” Browns coach Eric Mangini said. “He and I talked about what I was looking for from him at practice, what I was looking for from him in pass protection and those things are really important. I’ve seen him improve in those areas and I think it’s been reflected in the way that he’s played throughout his opportunity to be the featured back.”
Right before the half ended, kicker Sebastian Janikowski kicked the longest field goal in franchise history. Janikowski nailed the ball and watched as it sailed through the uprights from 61 yards.
“Yeah, I’ m pretty proud; I think that’s one of the best kicks I’ve ever had, you know,” Janikowski said of the kick. “I mean, I know that 57-yarder against the Jets was big but in these conditions – snow and the wind here – so, I’m proud of it.”
The field goal is the third-longest in the NFL but it wasn’t enough to spark the Raiders in the second half.
“The little things like that make a difference, somewhere down the line,” Raiders coach Tom Cable said. “At the end of the day , you are disappointed because you lost the game. It was a really good thing for him and the team - and I thought it gave us a little spark. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to maintain it and put the ball in the end zone. We had a lot of chances.”
The officiating left the Oakland players shaking their heads in disbelief.
“I think we did it ourselves,” defensive end Greg Ellis said about the onslaught of flags. “And when we do it to ourselves, the ref looks like, ‘You know what? We’re fed up with these guys, any questionable call.’ Zach Miller, that’s not Zach. Tony Stewart, that’s not what he’s about. When you get guys like that ejected and flags thrown on them, that usually would probably have gotten a warning. But because of what happened earlier in the game, those things will get guys ejected from the football game.”
Of course no one has seen as much as cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
“I’ve seen some very, we’ve seen some interesting calls,” Asomugha said. “In ’06, that was the Vincent Jackson spin. You could probably pull three every year. But, at the same time, some of those we can control, the unnecessary roughness. Now, there were a couple unnecessary roughness personal fouls that you kind of scratch your head (Stewart and Miller?). Yeah, exactly, and then with Stan getting kicked out of the game, I still don’t know what happened there. But you come to the point where you feel like there are going to be calls that we get that others might not get. It’s just a feeling. Our facts kind of stand behind it. But, going back to what you said, I was thinking about it as I was talking, the identity thing for us. That’s our Achilles’ heel right now is not being able to figure out who we want to be, if we want to be contenders. Championship teams, you know who they are. It’s a great defensive team, great offensive team, or something like that, or their special teams is great. But when you come into every game and it’s like you’re playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you don’t know which team do you want to show up, you’re not going to be a contender. That’s our biggest thing right now. We can’t put back-to-back wins together. We play the Redskins after whoever it was that we beat (Pittsburgh). If you beat Pitt, then you get the Redskins. Who did we just beat? (Denver). Denver! If that’s not a little confusing, I don’t know what is.”
The Raiders have to regroup and play their final game at home against the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday. It is yet another chance to start a streak of one in a row against a playoff-caliber team.
“We have a big, big ball game next week,” middle linebacker Kirk Morrison said. “I am looking forward to playing against someone that I have admired in this league for a long period of time (Ray Lewis). So, for me, it is big stage and a big game next week. You want to go out there and prove you belong.”