CLEVELAND (AP) Walking through the wide doors of Cleveland’s locker room, Browns coach Eric Mangini was greeted by smiling faces.
“Congratulations, coach,” a team employee hollered at Mangini.
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“Thank you,” he replied.
Once thought to be on his way out of Cleveland after just one season, Mangini may be staging a stunning comeback of his own.
Jerome Harrison rushed for 148 yards on 39 carries and the Browns won their third straight, 23-9 over the reckless Oakland Raiders on Sunday, extending a surprising streak that Mangini can use to strengthen his case to convince new Browns boss Mike Holmgren to keep him.
With consecutive wins over Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Oakland, the Browns (4-11) have their first three-game winning streak since 2007 and only their third since 1999. Holmgren, who last week agreed to become Cleveland’s team president, may have to factor Cleveland’s late-season surge into whether he retains Mangini.
When the Browns were 1-11, Mangini’s fate seemed to be sealed. There’s no telling now what his future could hold.
“I’m happy with the way things have been going,” he said. “I’ve seen progress from the group. It is a process. To see this is a real positive.”
The Browns had been expected to introduce Holmgren at a news conference this week. However, those plans may be pushed back until the new year. Following Sunday’s game, the team announced that Holmgren would be available only via conference call on Monday.
The team has no firm plans to bring in Holmgren, who may be waiting until the conclusion of the season before arriving from his home in Arizona and officially taking over the Browns. Speculation has centered on Holmgren hiring his own coach, but the Browns’ sudden spurt could cause him to consider giving Mangini more time.
If the Browns can beat Jacksonville at home next Sunday, they would have their first four-game winning streak in their expansion era.
“This shows the character of the guys we have in this locker room,” said quarterback Derek Anderson, who finished 8 of 17 for 121 yards with one TD pass and didn’t throw an interception in his first start since Nov. 1. “Nobody is going to quit.”
There’s no denying the Browns have improved. They’ve cut down on turnovers, penalties, showed imagination on offense and had backups emerge as playmakers, none more so than Harrison, who followed up a 286-yard game last week by scoring the second time he touched the ball and breaking Lee Suggs’ team mark for attempts.
“We see it as we’re moving in the right direction,” said Harrison, who was happy to be the workhorse for a second straight week. “If my number is called, I just try to make the best of it, whether it’s running, blocking, catching whatever it may be.”
The Raiders (5-10) helped the Browns beat them.
They committed 13 penalties for 126 yards, had two players ejected and failed for the fifth time this season to win two straight games.
“Some it is uncalled for stuff,” Oakland coach Tom Cable said. “We’ve got to see what’s going on, but that’s 130 yards and that’s disappointing.”
One positive for the Raiders was Sebastian Janikowski, who kicked a 61-yard field goal – the fourth longest in league history – on the final play of the first half. Janikowski’s low line drive barely cleared the crossbar, hitting the goose-neck support and bouncing back onto the field.
Janikowski’s kick has only been bettered by New Orleans’ Tom Dempsey (1970) and Denver’s Jason Elam (1998), who share the record of 63 yards and Tampa Bay’s Matt Bryant (2006), who hit from 62 yards.
“That’s one of the best kicks I’ve ever had,” Janikowski said. “In these conditions with the snow and wind, I’m proud of it. In warmups, we kicked it 60 yards going in that direction. I hit it hard. I thought it was short at first and it barely got in there.”
Janikowski also made kicks from 44 and 34.
Phil Dawson kicked field goals of 42, 33 and 34 yards for Cleveland.
Oakland’s Charlie Frye had a rough homecoming.
The former Browns QB went 26 of 45 for a career-high 333 yards, but was sacked four times and threw three interceptions, including one on his first pass.
“I didn’t give our team a very good chance to win. Turnovers trump everything,” said Frye, who sustained a concussion last week at Denver.
Anderson’s 19-yard TD pass to rookie Mohamed Massaquoi with 18 seconds left before halftime gave the Browns a 17-6 lead, capping a drive in which the Raiders lost their cool. Pro Bowl lineman Richard Seymour was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and cornerback Stanford Routt was flagged for head-butting and ejected.
“A little light just started the whole thing,” Seymour said. “Everybody just jumped on. Obviously, we have to keep our composure. You never want to have personal fouls on a drive, especially on a play that didn’t even happen and you get another one.”
NOTES: Browns WR Brian Robiskie (ankle) and DE Kenyon Coleman (ankle) were injured and did not return. … Janikowski’s previous career best was a 57-yarder in overtime last season to beat the Jets. … Frye joins Marc Wilson (1987) as the only Raiders QBs to throw for at least 300 yards, with three or more picks and 0 TDs.