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.