OAKLAND, Calif. — The Raiders should’ve known better.
After being burned by kick returner Joshua Cribbs last year, the Raiders kicked to him again Sunday. They paid the price again, but this time it didn’t cost them the game. The Raiders won 26-24.
Cribbs returned a kickoff
99 yards for a touchdown to pull the Browns within 16-7 late in the first half. Cribbs is the first Brown to return a kickoff for a touchdown in three straight seasons, and the 99-yarder is his longest.
“It was just a matter of time before he had to kick to me,” Cribbs said of Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski, who had three touchbacks.
Cribbs caught the ball inside the 1-yard line, raced up the middle, got a sustained block from tight end Steve Heiden and cut to the right sideline. Janikowski stood in the way and had the angle, but Cribbs froze him with a stutter step, then blew by him as he streaked down the right sideline.
“The touchdown was set up perfectly,” Cribbs said. “We had great blocking. I seen Steve Heiden’s block in my peripheral vision. I seen the ref right behind him and I’m thinking, ‘Do not throw no flag.’
“It was a great block by Heiden. I seen Janikowski and after that it was over. I got around on the edge and a kicker is never supposed to catch a returner.”
Last year, Cribbs single-handedly kept the Browns in the game, and they came back to win. Cribbs’ 65-yard return set up a field goal to cut the deficit to 14-3. His 53-yarder set up a touchdown to trim the hole to 21-10. The effort earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Cribbs had one return in Oakland as a rookie in 2005, a 48-yarder. But he denied there is anything special about the Black Hole.
“We have a great kickoff return team,” he said. “We have great blocking, we’re well-coached. There’s no reason we can’t go out there each and every time and do the same thing.”
Cribbs finished with four kickoff returns for 174 yards, a 43.5 average. He had one punt return for 22 yards after catching it over his shoulder at the 2-yard line.
Punter Dave Zastudil (back), safety Gary Baxter (knees), linebacker Willie McGinest (back) and guard Isaac Sowells (personal) didn’t make the trip. The other inactives were running back Jerome Harrison, tackle Kelly Butler, receiver Travis Wilson and third quarterback Ken Dorsey.
The lingering injuries to McGinest and Baxter, who haven’t played this season, have reduced the flexibility of the roster.
“We’re holding two spots open for those guys,” general manager Phil Savage said on the radio last week.
Zastudil’s back has also forced the Browns to carry two punters for three weeks.
“We’re in a little bit of a roster pinch right now,” Savage said. “There are three roster spots we’re not getting a lot out of right now. We have to grit our teeth and get through it.”
After the Paul Ernster debacle in the opener, Scott Player was a welcome sight in place of Zastudil.
Ernster dropped the first snap, which led to a Steelers touchdown and set a bad tone. Player handled every snap and averaged 46.8 yards gross and an outstanding 46.4 net. He kept up with Raiders Pro Bowler Shane Lechler, who had three kicks for a 55-yard gross and 41.0 net.
Player punted five times, and the Raiders returned three for a total of 2 yards.
Raiders standout defensive end Derrick Burgess, who had 27 sacks the last two years, was inactive with a calf injury.
• Former Brown Gerard Warren started at defensive tackle.
• Cleveland’s Ethan Kelley started at nose tackle for Ted Washington in a coach’s decision. Washington played in the second series.
• Safety Brodney Pool, who left last week’s game with a concussion, started for the Browns.
• Oakland’s Jake Grove started at center for Jeremy Newberry, who was active but has a hamstring injury.
Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the top pick in the draft, ended his holdout Sept. 12 but isn’t on the Raiders roster. He had exempt status for two weeks and must be added to the roster today. He signed the richest rookie deal ever, reported at six years, $61 million with $29 million guaranteed.
• The Browns entered Sunday 27-27 all time on the West Coast, including a 1-2 record in the playoffs. They were 3-3 since 1999.
• The Browns have played in Oakland three straight years. They won’t play in Oakland next year, but the Raiders could visit the Browns, depending on where the teams finish in their divisions.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.