CLEVELAND, Ohio— It could've been a Kirk Gibson moment…maybe Willis Reed.
It wasn't meant to be, as Jake Delhomme's return was anything but triumphant. In fact, an interception returned for a touchdown put the game away for the Falcons as they defeated the Browns, 20-10 in front of 65,290 fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns dropped to 1-4.
Delhomme, who was supposed to start, entered the game with less than a minute to play in the first half due to an ankle injury to Seneca Wallace. No information was given on Wallace other than an ankle injury and his return was questionable. He did not return after going 11-of-15 for 139 yards with a touchdown and a rating of 124. He was sacked twice, both by John Abraham.
Wallace was sacked by Abraham as he bolted past Joe Thomas on the next-to-last play of the first half. Wallace hopped off the field and Delhomme had to come in for him for the final two plays of the half.
Eric Mangini said that Delhomme would start if he could do all the things he needed to do, but obviously, he couldn't, thus Wallace made his fourth-straight start.
"Jake was limited, which is why we started Seneca," Mangini said. "I thought he had enough mobility to be the No. 2 quarterback. When Seneca got hurt, we ahd to go with the plast that we ahd to try to let him operate effectively."
Delhomme did not start because he was not 100 percent in his recovery from a high ankle sprain. He wasn't very mobile in the pocket and favored the ankle as he played the entire second half. He finished 13-of-23 for just 97 yards with two interceptions. The Browns were at the Falcons 17, trailing 20-10 when he threw an ill-fated pass that was batted at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Stephen Nicholas and the Falcons were able to run out the clock.
On the series before, defensive lineman Kroy Biermann batted a pass up in the air, caught it diving and then picked up and rambled into the end zone for a 31-yard interception return to seal the victory for the Falcons with 4:01 to play. The Browns were faced with third-and-7 from their 47 and Delhomme tried to throw to his left and Biermann made the play.
"I know that Kroy is from Montana and has probably rode a few wild broncos and bulls and has been thrown off and landed on his feet," Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said. "I'm sure that had something to do with it. But it was just a super athletic play."
The Browns clinged to a 7-6 halftime lead as Wallace hooked up with Peyton Hillis on a 19-yard touchdown play in the second quarter. Two Matt Bryant field goals gave the Falcons their points. A blocked third field goal attempt by T.J. Ward kept the Browns in the lead prior to halftime.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons got on the board first as Bryant kicked a 24-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 3-0 lead with 14:49 to play in the second quarter. The Browns aided Atlanta greatly as they committed two personal fouls to keep the drives going.
The Browns were their own worst enemies on the drive as Matt Ryan threw to Harry Douglas for 11 yards on third-and-six to the 43. Then, Ryan hit Roddy White for 18 yards to the Browns' 35 on another third-and-six. However, on the play, Marcus Benard was flagged for roughing Ryan and the ball was moved to the 20. Two plays later, Kenyon Coleman was called for a personal foul to give the Falcons a first down at the 8. The Falcons went 66 yards in 12 plays taking 4:21 off the clock.
The Browns came right back to take the lead, 7-3 as Wallace connected with Hillis for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 12:19 to play in the second quarter. Hillis made a nice one-handed catch for the score on third-and-five. He looked as though he re-injured his thigh or hamstring as he limped off the field. It was the fifth-consecutive game that Hillis has scored a touchdown, first by pass. Hillis did return after a series and had three carries for 7 yards, while catching three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns went 56 yards in just five plays as they passed on all five downs. After Josh Cribbs had a 34-yard kickoff return to the 44, Wallace used a play-action fake and threw to Mohamed Massaquoi for 11 yards to the Falcons' 42. On the next play, Wallace hit Chansi Stuckey for 18 yards to the 24.
Then, Wallace hit Massaquoi for a touchdown, but Massaquoi couldn't get his second foot inbounds and it went incomplete. A five-yard pass to Ben Watson set up the touchdown play.
"We didn't put enough points on the board," Watson said. "On offense, our job is to score points and that is how you measure offense. It doesn't matter if you are in a rhythm or moving the ball. You have to put up points."
The Falcons cut the Browns lead to 7-6 as Bryant kicked a 30-yard field goal with 5:00 left in the first half. The Falcons went 70 yards in 14 plays, taking 7:19 off the clock. Ryan hit White for 19 yards to the 46 and then Ryan hit Gonzalez for 16 to the Browns' 40 on third-and-12. Another pass to Gonzalez for nine yards moved the Falcons to the 19.
The Falcons looked as though they would regain the lead just prior to the half as they moved to the Browns' 12, but when they lined up for a 30-yard field goal, Ward broke through from the left side and blocked the attempt.
The Browns increased their lead to 10-6 with 9:57 to play in the third quarter as Phil Dawson kicked a 19-yard field goal after the Browns recovered a fumble at the Falcons' 24. On the field goal, Dawson tied Lou Groza for the all-time record for field goals in Browns history with 234.
"It is kind of surreal at this point," Dawson said. "I would trade it for a win. I am guarded to say anything too remarkable about the accomplishment because this is a team game."
On the Falcons' first series on third-and-2, Scott Fujita sacked Ryan and forced the fumble which Kenyon Coleman recovered at the Falcons' 24. After getting to the two-yard line, Delhomme fumbled the exchange with Hillis but was able to recover to kick the field goal.
After the Browns inability to convert the turnover into a touchdown, the Falcons went 68 yards in just 2 minutes as Ryan hit Roddy White for 45 yards for the score with 7:57 to play to give the Falcons a 13-10 lead. Sheldon Brown went down after a hit on Tony Gonzalez, but returned two plays later and he was beaten by White for the score.
The Falcons closed out the scoring when Biermann intercepted Delhomme and returned the score 31 yards to make the final, 20-10.
"This team is never going to quit," Massaquoi said. "It will never lie down. We are better than our record shows. We are going to keep fighting. That's not going to change no matter what our record is or what the conditions are."
Jake's Return: Most followers of the Browns thought QB Jake Delhomme would return as the starter this week, but he was the backup to Wallace. However, when Wallace went down on a sack late in the first half, Delhomme had to enter and threw a pass to WR Chansi Stuckey on his first play. He appeared to limp and have trouble moving around. He was 13-of-23 for 97 yards, but had two big interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
Return of Mo: WR Mohamed Massaquoi had three receptions for 35 yards in the first half. He would have had a 24-yard touchdown in the second quarter if he could've kept his second foot inbounds. Massaquoi came into the game with just four receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown in the first four games. He finished with five receptions for 55 yards.
Cribbs Return: WR/KR Josh Cribbs had a 34-yard kickoff return in the second quarter to the 44, which set up the Browns' first touchdown drive. He ran two times out of the wildcat for 11 yards.
Seneca Hurt: QB Seneca Wallace made his fourth-straight start in place of QB Jake Delhomme, who was listed as the backup to Wallace for the first time. Colt McCoy was the third quarterback. Wallace was 11-of-15 for 139 yards and one touchdown in the first half. He was injured on a sack two plays before the halftime and the injury appeared serious, but nothing official. He had a QB rating of 124.0. He suffered an ankle injury and did not return.
Peyton's Play: Hillis started despite a thigh bruise that held him out of practice on Friday. He fumbled on his second carry and William Moore recorded the recovery at the Browns' 47. Hillis caught a short pass from Wallace on the first play from scrimmage for 15 yards and Hillis leaped over the cornerback on the run. Hillis left the field on at least three occasions appearing to be in much pain, but he returned each time. He finished with 10 carries for 28 yards and had 4 receptions for 49 yards, including a touchdown. Jerome Harrison had six carries for six yards.
Streak Snapped: The Browns streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher was snapped as RB Michael Turner went over the 100-yard mark with 140yards. The Browns also gave up a 100-yard receiver as Roddy White had 101 yards on five catches. The Browns did not allow a rushing touchdown for the fifth game this season.
Benard sacks: LB Marcus Benard sacked QB Matt Ryan on third down after the RB Peyton Hillis' on the Browns first series. LB Scott Fujita had a sack.
Tackle Men: LB Matt Roth led the Browns with seven tackles, while CB Sheldon Brown and DL Ahytba Rubin had six each.
Catching Men: WR Chansi Stuckey had five receptions for 55 yards, while TE Ben Watson had five for 45.
Pashos Second Start: OL Tony Pashos made his second start of the season for OL John St. Clair at right tackle.
Robo's Return: Terry Robiskie returned to the sidelines at Cleveland Browns Stadium as the Falcons' wide receivers' coach. His son, Brian, is the Browns second-year wide receiver. Robiskie was interim head coach when Butch Davis stepped down and stayed on when Romeo Crennel became the team's coach.
Honorary Guests: Former Browns greats Dick Schafrath and Ernie Green were the honorary captains representing the 1964 championship team.