CLEVELAND — From flirting with first to dropping to worst — just like that.
The Browns would have moved atop the AFC North standings with a win Monday night over the Las Vegas Raiders, but in the end, Cleveland fell short of conquering the obstacles created by its COVID-19 outbreak.
Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson made a 48-yard game-winning field goal with time expired to hand the Browns a heartbreaking defeat.
The Browns stumbled to the fourth and final spot in their tight division with a 16-14 loss to the Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium.
With a record of 7-7, the Browns are behind the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6), Baltimore Ravens (8-6) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1).
The Browns had 22 players on the COVID-19 list for Monday’s game. At least nine of them are considered starters.
Three Browns coaches — head coach Kevin Stefanski, acting running backs coach Ryan Cordell and offensive assistant T.C. McCartney — missed the game versus the Raiders (7-7), too.
Third-string quarterback Nick Mullens started with starter Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum unable to test out of COVID-19 protocols in time for the game.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer served as the acting head coach, and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt took control of the play-calling duties in Stefanski’s absence.
The virus ripping through the Browns compelled the NFL and NFL Players Association to postponed the game from 4:30 p.m. Saturday until 5 p.m. Monday.
The Browns squeezed in two practices amid a chaotic week filled mostly with virtual meetings and walk-through sessions.
The franchise endured this type of adversity last season, but not to this extent.
The Browns prevailed 48-37 in a wild-card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 10 with Stefanski recovering from COVID-19 and watching on TV from the basement of his suburban Cleveland home.
There was no fairy-tale ending this time, though.
In the aftermath of the defeat, the Browns will likely need to triumph in each of their final three regular-season games to make the playoffs. Winning out would require a Christmas miracle Saturday against the Green Bay Packers (11-3) at Lambeau Field.
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Cleveland Browns third-string quarterback Nick Mullens delivers in the clutch
Trailing by six points, the Browns manufactured a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in crunch time.
It all came down to the Browns going for it on fourth-and-5 from the Las Vegas 6.
Mullens held the ball for a bit, rolled to his left and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Harrison Bryant in the front of the end zone. Chase McLaughlin made the extra point, and the Browns went ahead 14-13 with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter.
Running back Nick Chubb had an 11-yard rushing touchdown wiped out earlier on the series by a holding penalty called on right guard Wyatt Teller with 5:56 left to play.
Four plays later, Mullens came through with his back against the wall.
On the ensuing series, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr overthrew receiver Zay Jones on a deep ball, and Browns cornerback Greedy Williams intercepted the pass. Williams returned the pick 7 yards to the Cleveland 23 with 2:47 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Browns failed to run out the clock, though.
Chubb rushed for 2, 5 and zero yards as the Browns went three-and-out.
After the Browns punted, the Raiders got the ball back at their 29 with 1:50 remaining and marched 41 yards in seven plays to set up Carlson’s game-winning field goal.
Mullens completed 20-of-30 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown without an interception for a rating of 89.2.
Carr finished 25-of-38 passing for 236 yards and a touchdown with an interception for a rating of 80.6.
Cleveland Browns rally in third quarter by capitalizing on takeaway
The Browns executed complementary football to cut their deficit to 10-7 with 4:33 left in the third quarter.
On first-and-10 from the Cleveland 47, defensive tackle Sheldon Day and rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah sacked Carr for a 4-yard loss, Owusu-Koramoah forced Carr to fumble and defensive end Porter Gustin recovered the ball at the Las Vegas 47 with 7:13 remaining in the third quarter.
The Browns turned the takeaway into points when Chubb finished a six-play, 47-yard drive with a 4-yard rushing touchdown off the left side, and the Browns suddenly trailed by just three points.
The Browns were forced to get creative because their roster was decimated. With starting offensive tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and James Hudson III out due to COVID-19, four-time Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio made his first NFL start at left tackle. Michael Dunn started at left guard and Blake Hance at right tackle.
Chubb ran Bitonio’s way when it mattered most.
On the play before Chubb’s touchdown, tight end David Njoku nearly stayed in bounds in the back of the end zone for what would have been a remarkable touchdown catch over linebacker Cory Littleton.
Carr was hurt when the Browns strip-sacked him, but he didn’t miss a snap. He and the Raiders countered with a 10-play, 52-yard drive, capped by Carlson’s 40-yard field goal, which gave the Raiders a 13-7 lead with 14:46 left in the fourth quarter.
Browns No. 3 defensive end Takk McKinley suffered a left ankle injury during the series and had to be carted off the field with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Chase McLaughlin misses field goal as time expires in second quarter and Cleveland Browns trail 10-0 at halftime
The recent struggles of McLaughlin continued, and the kicker’s slump resulted in the Browns trailing 10-0 at halftime.
With 56 seconds left, the Browns started a drive in two-minute mode from their 25, and Mullens helped them advance to the Raiders 29. He completed a 13-yard pass to receiver Rashard Higgins, and cornerback Brandon Facyson drew a 14-yard pass interference penalty against receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
McLaughlin lined up for a 47-yard field goal with five seconds left, and he made the kick, but the Raiders had called timeout before the snap.
When the kick counted, McLaughlin missed it short and to the right with time expired in the first half. It was McLaughlin’s fifth missed kick in 12 attempts.
Las Vegas Raiders draw blood on their first possession to go ahead 7-0 vs. Cleveland Browns
The Browns won the coin toss and elected to receive, but the offense stalled on the game’s opening possession after Mullens was penalized for delay of game and Chubb was stuffed for a 7-yard loss on second down.
When the Raiders took control, they had good field position, courtesy of receiver Hunter Renfrow’s 28-yard punt return to the Las Vegas 42. They took advantage with an 11-play, 58-yard scoring drive. On third-and-goal, receiver Bryan Edwards caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Carr over cornerback Denzel Ward in the right side of the end zone, and the Raiders seized a 7-0 advantage with 3:41 left in the first quarter.
The Browns flirted with firing back. On second-and-8 from the Cleveland 41, Mullens took a deep shot on a play-action pass to Peoples-Jones, who dropped the pass near the Las Vegas 25 when Facyson hit him along the Raiders’ sideline with 1:38 remaining in the opening quarter.
Another deep ball went the Raiders’ way on the next series.
On third-and-5 from the Las Vegas 9, Carr was under pressure when he launched a desperation pass intended for Jones. The pass was short of the intended receiver, but nickelback M.J. Stewart drew a pass interference penalty anyway, much to the displeasure of the home crowd. The Browns were not scathed by the 46-yard penalty, though, largely because Stewart forced Edwards to fumble later in the series, the 11-yard loss on the play ultimately led the Raiders to punt.
The Browns went three-and-out on consecutive possessions before the Raiders extended their lead to 10-0 when Carlson made a 24-yard field goal by making a 24-yard field goal with 56 seconds left in the second quarter.
On the previous play, safety Jovante Moffatt made a touchdown-saving tackle when he stopped Carr on a 6-yard run on third-and-goal from the Cleveland 11. The Raiders then summoned Carlson for points at the end of the 13-play, 58-yard drive.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Las Vegas Raiders defeat Cleveland Browns in postponed game
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