CLEVELAND — Call it the curse of Warren Sapp, the vagaries of the NFL or just plain ol' coincidence. The Raiders just can't seem to get out of this one-step-up, two-steps-back mode that has dogged them all season.
For the fifth time this season, the Raiders on Sunday lost by two touchdowns or more the game after a victory, this time to the Cleveland Browns by a 23-9 margin.
"It's tough because we've shown flashes," Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "We've shown flashes of a championship-caliber team. We've shown flashes of one of those cellar-dweller-type teams. So, it's kind of like we haven't been able to figure out who we wanted to be."
If anything, the Raiders suffer from multiple-identity crisis. They beat the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers one week and then lose to the lowly Washington Redskins.
They beat the AFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles one week and then lose to the New York Jets 38-0 at home.
This time, they entered a game invigorated by an upset victory over the Denver Broncos.
Perhaps, it's no wonder the Raiders are 5-10 and one loss away from a seventh straight season of at least 11 losses.
Coach Tom Cable said he's at a loss for answers.
"If I were able to figure it out, we wouldn't be here now, feeling like we do," he said. "We prepared well, made sure we put the time in during the week. We had everything practiced the way we were supposed to. We just were not able to make scoring plays."
Sapp, a former Raiders defensive lineman, said earlier this season that Oakland is a team that can't handle success. As proof, he predicted a letdown after the Eagles victory.
By now, the Raiders know the story. They don't need Sapp or anyone else telling them why they can't string together back-to-back wins or explaining to them how it makes no sense that they can beat some of the league's better teams and lose to some of the poorer ones.
The thing that confounds them most now is the number of penalties called Sunday. The Raiders committed 13 penalties for 126 yards, with several more declined or offset by a penalty committed by the Browns (4-11) on the same play.
"The refs weren't doing their job out there," Raiders wide receiver Chaz Schilens said. "I mean, they're trying to call a game, but our guys don't feel like it's necessarily fair, so, of course, people are going to get mad."
Numerous players, including first-year Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour, said officials are predisposed to calling penalties against Oakland.
"The intensity was all directed toward us," said Seymour, who played his first eight NFL seasons with the New England Patriots. "Maybe (it's) the Raider mystique. They were all directed toward us. You never want to go into the game prejudged what you're going to do, and we felt that is the way the game happened."
A bizarre sequence near the end of the first half encapsulated the Raiders' day and changed the complexion of the game.
Seymour was called for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and cornerback Stanford Routt one, within a four-play span — one of Seymour's penalties was offset by a Browns penalty — and that helped the Browns march 93 yards for a touchdown that turned a close game into a 17-6 advantage.
"I thought that impacted the game quite a bit "... ," Cable said. "To give up a touchdown like that didn't settle well with us going into halftime."
Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson said he and his teammates lost their aggressiveness as the game progressed for fear of being called for yet another penalty.
"It's hard to do because you think you're playing good football and things start going the opposite way," Johnson said. "So, you got to damned near play a perfect game. It's hard in this league these days to play a perfect game because you don't know what they're going to call. It's frustrating."
To a man, the Browns attributed the disparity in penalties — the Browns were called six times for 64 yards — to a lack of discipline on the Raiders' part and not the officials being biased.
"Those penalties actually sparked us," Browns guard Eric Steinbach said. "If those guys want to get ejected and have dumb penalties, so be it. It can only help us out."
All the extracurricular activity overshadowed the return of Raiders quarterback Charlie Frye to a place he called home in 2005 and '06, as well as one game in '07, before he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks.
"This was an important game for me to go out there and play, but it just took us so long to go out there and get going," he said.
Frye passed for 333 yards Sunday. However, that was offset by three interceptions, four sacks and the team's inability to get the ball into the end zone.
The Raiders managed only three field goals and lost a game they felt was theirs for the taking, especially on the heels of beating the Broncos.
"That's our Achilles heel right now, is not being able to figure out who we want to be, if we want to be contenders," Asomugha said. "Championship teams, you know who they are. It's a great defensive team, great offensive team, or something like that, or their special teams are great.
"But when you come into every game, and it's like you're playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you don't know which team do you want to show up, you're not going to be a contender."
The Raiders have now lost 10 or more games for seven straight seasons.
Year W L Pct. Finish
2003 4 12 .250 3rd (T)
2004 5 11 .313 4th
2005 4 12 .250 4th
2006 2 14 .125 4th
2007 4 12 .250 3rd (T)
2008 5 11 .313 3rd
2009 5 10 .333 3rd
Totals 29 82 .261 --