The Cleveland Browns have nothing to be ashamed of.
They lost on Monday, but there wasn't much they could do. The Browns had 18 players, including eight starters, on the COVID-19 list. They were down to third-string quarterback Nick Mullens, who was signed from the practice squad on Thursday and finally got to practice with the first-team offense on Saturday. Coach Kevin Stefanski was even ruled out.
And the Browns led in the fourth quarter, somehow. Mullens hit a fourth-down touchdown pass with 3:45 left and Cleveland was up 14-13.
The Raiders rallied and barely beat a team that was down about one-third of its roster. Derek Carr led a late drive and hit a big pass to Zay Jones in the final seconds to set up Daniel Carlson's game-winning 48-yard field goal as time expired. Las Vegas won 16-14.
It is a tough loss for the 7-7 Browns in the playoff standings, but there's not much more they could have done.
Browns were down about one-third of their roster
The Browns had 18 players out due to COVID-19. The game was rescheduled from Saturday to Monday but that only helped a little bit.
Official Browns COVID list:
Tony Fields II
— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) December 20, 2021
The first half was awful. The Browns' first four drives produced 47 yards and two first downs. Cleveland got a little something going on its final drive of the half, and then kicker Chase McLaughlin missed a field goal. It was the first time the Browns were shut out in the first half of a game since Dec. 2, 2018, according to NFL Network.
The slow start wasn't the Browns' fault. They had a skeleton team. But they deserve a lot of credit for the way they battled on Monday.
The Browns kept chipping away, staying in the game by making some plays on defense, and somehow found themselves in the game in the fourth quarter. At that point, a Raiders team that was more interested in making excuses than beating a team depleted by COVID-19 seemed ripe to be beaten.
Browns battle hard into fourth quarter
The Browns trailed 10-0 in the third quarter when rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah sacked Derek Carr and forced a fumble that Cleveland recovered. That set up a short drive and a Nick Chubb touchdown.
The Raiders couldn't put the game away even though the Browns were missing about one-third of their roster. They did get a field goal for a 13-7 lead but the Browns weren't finished. They drove into Raiders territory and Chubb seemed to have a touchdown with less than six minutes left, but it came back due to a holding penalty. That was OK, because Mullens hit tight end Harrison Bryant for a fourth-down touchdown. With 3:45 left, the Browns led. A horrible Carr interception on an aimless deep pass with 2:47 left set the Raiders even further back. It looked like the Browns would win.
Finally, the Browns broke. Las Vegas got a stop and the ball back inside of the two-minute warning, and then the Browns couldn't get the stop they needed. Carr led a drive, hitting Jones to get Carlson into position for the game-winning kick.
The Browns left it all on the field and lost. But it shouldn't feel like a loss given all they were up against.