Thomas intercepted two passes by Couch late in the second quarter, including one he returned for a 46-yard touchdown, helping the Raiders turn a close game into a 36-10 rout of the Cleveland Browns Sunday at Network Associates Coliseum.
"Before those interceptions we were right in there with them in the first half," said Browns coach Chris Palmer. "Those were two big plays. It all came down to the fact that they made some plays and we didn't."
Thomas turned in his first interception with 5:43 left in the first half and the Raiders leading 14-7. The 10-year veteran reached high into the air at midfield to pick off a deep throw over the middle intended for tight end Aaron Shea.
Eight plays after the interception, the Raiders extended their lead to 21-7 on a 2-yard run by fullback Zack Crockett.
It didn't take long for Oakland to push the lead out even further.
Just Two plays into the Browns' next drive, Thomas intercepted Couch again on a sideline throw intended for wide receiver Darrin Chiaverini. Thomas returned the pick 46 yards down the left sideline, giving the Raiders a 28-7 advantage with just 42 seconds left in the half.
"We were in a zone defense and I was playing the wide receiver," said Thomas. "I turned around, made a play and then took off. I don't think (Couch) was locking on his wide receiver, it was just that he looked like he was off balance and made some bad decisions."
Thomas' score was the Raiders' second touchdown in a span of 35 seconds and their fourth consecutive touchdown after watching the Browns jump out to a 7-0 lead on the game's opening possession.
"Both of the interceptions were great plays and great catches," said Chiaverini. "On the one he returned for a touchdown, I was the third option. Tim (Couch) went through his progressions and finally came to me. He threw it a little off his back foot and (Thomas) made a great play."
The two interceptions by Thomas were just part of the Browns' offensive struggles. The sloppy performance included seven false-start penalties, a fumble on a shotgun snap when Couch and center Dave Wohlabaugh confused the snap count, and a key missed opportunity when Couch failed to connect with wide receiver Kevin Johnson, who was left uncovered after Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson fell midway through the second quarter.
"I didn't see Woodson fall," said Couch. "He was right there running with Kevin, and I thought it was going to be one of those plays where I was going to have to make a perfect throw. He fell just as I was releasing it, and I couldn't pull the ball back."
The throw sailed over Johnson's head as he ran by himself inside the Raiders' 10-yard line.
Instead of a touchdown that would have tied the score at 14 with just over eight minutes left in the half, the Browns were forced to settle for a 43-yard field goal attempt, which Phil Dawson missed wide right.
"That scenario pretty much tells how the game went for us," said Palmer. "There were times where we looked half-way decent. We just didn't do that very often."
The only time the Browns' offense looked in sync all afternoon was on the game's opening possession, when Cleveland marched 77 yards in nine plays and grabbed an early lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Couch to Chiaverini.
"The touchdown was a great throw by Couch," said Chiaverini. "It was a go route, and I turned around and the pass was right on me. I caught the ball, turned and saw the pylon in the corner of the end zone and just dove for it.
"Unfortunately, we fell apart after that. It's tough. Sometimes when things are not going well, they start to snowball."
The Browns lost their early momentum immediately after Chiaverini's touchdown when they gambled and lost on an on-side kick attempt.
"That was a play we worked on all week," said Browns kicker Phil Dawson. "We tried it because of something we saw on film. All season long, it looked like (Raiders linebacker Bobby Brooks) turned his back to run when the ball was kicked. It was a great situation to try (the on-side kick). When we tried it, it almost looked like he knew it was coming. He hung in there, saw the ball off the tee and made a great play."
Brown recovered Dawson's kick at the Browns' 43-yard line, setting the Raiders up with great field position for their first drive of the game. They quickly took advantage of the opportunity with a seven-play drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Tyrone Wheatley, tying the score at seven with 7:21 remaining in the first quarter.
Wheatley, who rushed for 63 yards on 21 carries, scored on another 2-yard run with 13:27 left in the second quarter, giving the Raiders their first lead at 14-7.
The Raiders put the game away in the fourth quarter on field goals of 37 and 31 yards by rookie Sebastian Janikowski.
To add insult to injury, Couch was called for intentional grounding in the end zone while trying to avoid a sack by Raiders defensive end Lance Johnstone with 5:34 left in the game. Because the penalty was committed in the end zone, the Raiders were awarded a safety to close the scoring.
"This was a tough game, but I think it was just a bump in the road,"
said Chiaverini. "We played well at times, but then we just shot
ourselves in the foot."