CINCINNATI -- The Raiders were being bullied yet again, this time by the mediocre Bengals, when they summoned anger. Emotions were rising at halftime, and by the fourth quarter they reached the boiling point.
With one play midway through that quarter, an apparent officiating error that led to considerable confusion, the Raiders snapped.
Can't say I blame them.
One play after Oakland safety Tyvon Branch picked up a fumble and appeared to return it for a touchdown that could have closed the gap to 10 points -- only to have the score erased by an "inadvertent" whistle -- the Raiders resorted to brawling.
Can't say I don't understand -- even if the melee cost them any chance of a comeback.
For shortly after losing defensive linemen Tommy Kelly and Lamarr Houston to ejections, Oakland allowed another Cincinnati touchdown to finish off a 34-10 thumping Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Oakland's last chance to make a game of this came when Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu was stripped at the Cincy 25 by Joselio Hanson, who batted the ball toward Branch, who then raced into the end zone. Some players had stopped their actions, while others continued to play.
But officials conferred and ruled that there a whistle had been blown by line judge Julian Mapp, signaling the play dead immediately after Sanu was stripped but somehow before Hanson could prevent the ball from going out of bounds.
"It was a bad call," Hanson said. "At least, it's fourth down."
Instead, officials gave the Bengals option of accepting the play -- which would have resulted in fourth-and-1 -- or replaying the down. They obviously chose a replay of the third-and-6, whereupon tempers flared.
Though a flag had been thrown to signal a Cincinnati false start, some players continued the action, which ended with Houston tackling Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Cincy tackle Andrew Whitworth confronted Houston, and the beef was on.
As a several players pushed and punched and grabbed, Kelly wound up in the middle of things, helmet off, mouth wide open and yelling. Upon restoring order, Houston, Kelly and Whitworth were tossed.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called Houston's play "a cheap shot."
Raiders Dennis Allen coach said, "We lost our poise."
Kelly could not be found in the postgame locker room, and Houston downplayed the incident.
"When you play defensive line, it's a fight every down," he said. "So I'm not surprised at all."
Yet at least one Raider, linebacker Philip Wheeler, insists Mapp acknowledged his error.
"I understood the call," Wheeler said, "but the referee (Mapp) came to me and he told me, 'I'm a man. I made a mistake.' He told me that on the field. He said he made a mistake blowing the whistle. I was on (him) for it and he finally said, 'Look, man. I'm a man. And I made a mistake.' That's all he could say. Hopefully, he'll own up to it."
Oakland's defense responded to the unwelcome circumstances by allowing the Bengals to cover 85 yards on nine plays, concluding with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to tight end Jermaine Gresham, with 3:39 to play.
The Raiders, locked in the throes of a four-game losing streak for the first time since 2008, were done.
Yet they were still smoldering.
"It looked like a fumble and scoop," Houston said of the disputed play.
"I felt if we would have gotten that touchdown, anything could happen," Hanson said.
"It hurt us because we know we needed that," Wheeler said. "We started a comeback. We needed that; that was going to be part of our comeback."
When I asked Allen if he could honestly assess the non-fumble without potentially facing discipline from the NFL, he said, "Probably not.
"I was unaware that a ruling of an inadvertent whistle would give (the Bengals) the opportunity to choose what they wanted to do," he said.
Yet after all the spittle had landed and all the punches had missed and all the screaming had stopped, the Raiders went home in an achingly familiar state. They were losers again, their record tumbling to 3-8.
"We have the same conversation every Sunday," veteran safety Michael Huff said.
Yes, indeed. Except this time there was steam in the room and anger in the air. It was misdirected, perhaps, but present nonetheless.
And when you're as low as the Raiders are now, you need that fury to have any chance at all of avoiding further humiliation.