Struggling Raiders feeling the pressure to beat Browns

Updated: October 9, 2003, 3:11 PM ET
ESPN

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Rich Gannon casually mentioned the word playoffs Wednesday, and Oakland's quarterback believes the Raiders still have a realistic shot at the postseason.

At this stage, that seems like such a stretch.

Those are bold words considering the Raiders are 2-3 with their only victories coming over winless San Diego and the lowly Cincinnati Bengals. Oakland still has to play twice against unbeaten AFC West leader Kansas City and again against second-place Denver, which clobbered the Raiders 31-10 on Sept. 22.

Oakland plays at Cleveland (2-3) on Sunday, trying to save face.

There are several theories floating around why the Raiders have been so bad -- opponents are figuring out their offense, which has been nearly the same for years, or there's a lingering hangover from last season's demoralizing Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay. Or both.

"Every day I talk to the team about where we're at chemistry-wise and morale-wise," coach Bill Callahan said Wednesday. "You try to keep everybody's spirit alive. We don't give in to adversity. ... I firmly believe we're still a good football team. We've got to correct some things. There's still a lot of confidence on this team and a lot of enthusiasm and energy on the practice field."

One win, and the Raiders could be back on track -- they've shown that before.

Last season, all it really took was one huge play.

Oakland had lost four straight after starting 4-0, then beat the Broncos in Denver 34-10 behind Rod Woodson's 98-yard interception return for a touchdown. That started a stretch in which the Raiders won nine of 10 games -- two in the playoffs -- to reach the Super Bowl.

Now they need to start capitalizing in the red zone. Oakland settled for five field goals by Sebastian Janikowski in last week's 24-21 loss to the Chicago Bears.

"We can't just kick six or seven field goals a game," Janikowski said. "I don't mind just kicking field goals, it's my job. But I'd rather be scoring touchdowns."

Week after week, the Raiders say they're beating themselves.

"We stopped ourselves," right guard Mo Collins said of the loss at Chicago. "Them boys couldn't stop a cold. ... Right now, we're fighting, scraping and clawing to get by mediocre teams."

In part, that's because a defense that was much improved by the end of last season is struggling and having trouble getting off the field. And two key members of the D-line -- veteran tackles Dana Stubblefield and John Parrella -- are questionable this week with injuries.

These troubles aren't necessarily new. Defensive end Trace Armstrong said the problems are more glaring now because the offense isn't jumping out to big leads like last year.

Oakland plans to simplify its schemes this week in an effort to upgrade its run defense by minimizing the chance of missed tackles and players getting out of position by overpursuing.

"In that 4-4 phase last year we scaled down," Callahan said. "A lot of guys are out of position. We're scrambling a little bit in that respect."

Gannon could use a big game.

Last season's NFL MVP has completed only 54.1 percent of his passes, going 93-for-172 for 1,047 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 74.9. The Raiders have been outscored 131-108.

"I think that if you ask me if we're a top-five team in the first month of the season, there's just no way," Gannon said. "We haven't beaten a team with a winning record. There's a lot of questions that need to be answered. But we have the potential, in my opinion, to be a very, very good playoff team.

"Potential is one thing. But acting on it and playing to that level and earning that right is a totally different thing. While we have made a lot of errors and our game is not tied down to where it should be right now, there's still hope that we can work our way through it like we did a year ago."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index