Daniel Carson’s 48-yard field goal as time expired snatched away what would have been a win in equal parts dramatic and crucial for the Browns — who ran out at their FirstEnergy Stadium with 19 players absent on the Covid-19 list.
Despite the additional time window the Browns remained without head coach Kevin Stefanski out due to a positive test, whilst first-choice quarterback Baker Mayfield was replaced by third-string signal caller Nick Mullens, who went 20-for-30 passing for 147 yards.
Opposing quarterback Derek Carr had set the Raiders on the way with a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bryan Edwards in the opening quarter, before Carlson foreshadowed the Browns’ fate with a 24-yard field goal to put the away side 10-0 at half-time.
A fumble and subsequent turnover from Carr flipped momentum late in the third-quarter, Browns running back Nick Chubb capitalizing with a four-yard touchdown run to put his team back in the picture.
The Raiders’ frustrations were compounded by a knock sustained by Carr during the turnover, but the 30-year-old returned shortly after to end with 236 yards from 25 of 38 passes.
Another field-goal from Carlson restored the cushion before Harrison Bryant caught a dramatic touchdown pass on fourth down and five yards from Mullens with four minutes remaining — Chase McLaughlin converting the kick to edge the Browns into a slender one-point lead.
Yet the returning Carr rallied the Raiders, nudging them down the field on an eight-play, 41-yard drive to tee up Carlson’s last-gasp kicking heroics.
Jubilant scenes ensued among the Raiders players and staff as they celebrated a win that levels their season at 7-7 and keeps alive their playoff dreams.
‘They’re pretty down right now’
“It was fun to be able to do my job and get the win for us,” Carlson told reporters.
Meanwhile Carr said he understood his team’s grievances over the rescheduling, but insisted that it was strictly business as usual for him.
“My teammates said things that I agreed with, but at the end of the day … life’s gonna throw you curve balls, there’s gonna be adverse times,” Carr told reporters.
“Whether I agree or don’t agree, I don’t really think it matters. We gotta play at some point.
“I wanted to play — I have a schedule and a routine so it messes with that a little bit, but if that’s the hardest thing I deal with, then thank the lord,” Carr added.
Whilst the Raiders prepare to face the Denver Broncos (7-7) the evening after Christmas day, the Browns — also 7-7 — must lick their wounds before a daunting Christmas clash against the NFC North champions the Green Bay Packers (11-3).
“That locker room right now is hurting,” said acting Browns coach Mike Priefer. “That’s the most I’ve seen it in that kind of pain.
“You’re upset when you lose. Obviously you’re joyous when you win. But when you lose that type of game, that was tough.”
Vikings sink Bears
Following in the Raiders footsteps, the Minnesota Vikings kept their playoff hopes alive to go 7-7 with a 17-9 victory over the Chicago Bears (4-10), who saw their slim postseason chances extinguished.
Kirk Cousins threw two touchdown passes despite going 12-for-24 with an interception for just 87 yards– the fewest he’s ever had in a career start.
Justin Jefferson and Ihmir Smith-Marsette caught Cousins’ touchdown passes to secure the win for the Vikings.