CLEVELAND — It wasn't as easy as it could've been, but the Browns were able to hang on to a 24-23 win over the 1-10 Carolina Panthers in front of 64,473 fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns snapped a two-game losing streak and improve to 4-7.
Kicker John Kasay just missed a 42-yard field goal wide left as it grazed the left upright as time expired to allow the Browns to escape with the win.
"By no means am I ever going to blame a loss on John Kasay," Carolina coach John Fox said. "He gave everything he had just like our team did. We just fell a little short."
He almost did.
Clausen hit Mike Goodson for 32 yards to the 48 with 15 seconds to play. After stopping the clock with 12 seconds on an incomplete pass, Clausen hit Brandon LaFell for 28 yards to the Browns' 24 with five seconds to play. It appeared he was touched by Abe Elam or Sheldon Brown and the clock should've expired, but after a review the catch was ruled good and with the clock stoppage, it allowed the Panthers to line up for the field goal.
"When I was talking to the official on my sideline, he said that if it was a catch and it was in bounds, then the game would be over," Browns coach Eric Mangini said. "If it wasn't a catch, it'd go back to the previous spot. Coming out of the replay, that's now what happened, but we should have done a better job before that of not letting it happen."
Phil Dawson's 41-yard field goal with 2:42 to play was the difference as it put the Browns up 24-23.
After building a 21-7 lead, the Browns allowed the Panthers to score four times and 16 unanswered points to take the lead at 23-21 with 7:01 to play.
The Browns built their lead as Peyton Hillis scored three touchdowns. Hillis accomplished a feat that hasn't been done since 1968 with five games to go. Hillis rushed for 26 times for 131 yards. He now has 11 touchdowns rushing on the season, which was last accomplished by Leroy Kelly in 1968. The only other Browns running back to have 11 in a season was Jim Brown.
"That's absurd, those guys are legends," Hillis said. "I'm nobody. There's no need to talk about that anymore."
Meanwhile, Jake Delhomme returned to face his former team and was 12-of-18 for 149 yards in the first half. His QB rating was 92.1. He was sacked and fumbled on the final play of the half, but John St. Clair averted the disaster by falling on it near the goal line.
However, in the second half, he threw interceptions on his first two throws, including an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Captain Munnerlyn to make it 21-20. Delhomme finished 24-of-35 for 245 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
"We started off fast, but we hit a little wall late in the second quarter and certainly in the third," Delhomme said. "We just had to do what we needed to do to get a win. That's the biggest thing."
The Panthers took the opening kickoff and went 81 yards for a touchdown as Mike Goodson broke loose for 26 yards and a touchdown with 10:36 to play in the first quarter. After Jimmy Clausen hit Steve Smith for 15 yards on third-and-11 to the Browns 41, a personal foul on Shaun Rogers tacked 15 yards to the play to the 26. Goodson scored on the next play. The Panthers overcame a second-and-23 situation after Clausen was called for intentional grounding . It was the first opening drive touchdown given up by the Browns this season.
The Browns answered the Panthers with 6:49 to play as Hillis went around left end for the score to make it 7-7.
Delhomme opened the game with three consecutive passes to Ben Watson, Brian Robiskie and Watson again for 8-, 5- and 21-yards. After a six-yard run by Peyton Hillis, Delhomme threw to Robiskie again for five-yards and then hit Chansi Stuckey for 24 to the eight-yard line.
On first down, Hillis took a handoff from Delhomme and threw a bad pass into the ground to a wide open Watson. On second down, Delhomme was called for intentional grounding back to the 19. On third down, Delhomme threw a slant to Evan Moore in the end zone, who couldn't hang on to the ball. However, he was hit in the head by Sherrod Martin to give the Browns a first down on the nine. Hillis went around left end and dove into the end zone on the following play. Delhomme, who started 5-of-5 for 63 yards, was 5-of-7 for 63 yards on the drive. The Browns went 77 yards on nine plays.
After forcing a three-and-out punt, the Browns went 64 yards for another touchdown to take a 14-7 lead with 2:44 to play as Hillis scored his second touchdown of the game on a five-yard run. The Browns were aided by two penalties on third down on the Panthers, that kept drives alive.
After the penalty on Johnson, Delhomme hit Mohamed Massaquoi for 19 yards to the 14. After a nine-yard run to the five by Hillis, he went in on the next play. The Browns covered the 64 yards in seven plays and 3:04.
After another forced punt, the Browns were right back at it again. Starting at the Panthers' 49, the Browns moved to the eight and were faced with third-and-one. Delhomme threw a pass to Moore for the first down, but he was stripped by Jason Williams at the two to end the threat.
The Browns increased their lead to 21-7 with 9:12 to play in the first half as Hillis turned the hat trick as he ran over right tackle for a six-yard touchdown. Delhomme hit Brian Robiskie for 15 yards to the Panthers' 39 and then hit Massaquoi on the next play for 15 yards to the 24. Hillis ran for 18 yards and then scored on the next play.
Carolina cut the Browns lead to 21-10 with 3:19 to play in the half on a 43-yard field goal by John Kasay. A 17-yard pass to Goodson on third down and an 11-yard pass to Brandon LaFell moved the ball to the Browns' 39. After a sack by Abe Elam, LaFell caught a pass for nine yards to set up the field goal.
The Panthers chipped away again at the Browns lead with another field goal by Kasay prior to the half to make it 21-13 as he hit a 42-yard field goal with 47 seconds left in the first half. The score was set up on a 32-yard punt return by Captain Munnerlyn to the Browns' 42. An 18-yard pass to Steve Smith moved the ball to the 29 after he broke a tackle by Mike Adams.
On the first play of the second half, Delhomme was intercepted by Jon Beason, who returned the ball to the Browns' 32. However, the Browns were able to avoid a score as Kasay missed a 46-yard field goal wide to the right.
After the missed field goal, Delhomme's second pass was intercepted by Munnerlyn for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 21-20 with 12:18 to play in the third quarter.
The Browns had moved to the 40 but had to punt. However, when Reggie Hodges punted, he was run into by Josh Vaughan to give the Browns a first down at the 45. The Browns moved to the 25 on a 14-yard pass to Hillis. The Browns decided to go for it on fourth-and-one and Hillis was stopped short of the first down to give the ball back to Carolina.
The Panthers used the stop and marched 51 yards into field goal range and took the lead at 23-21 as Kasay kicked his third field goal of the game with 7:01 to play. The big play of the drive was when Jonathan Stewart broke loose for 31 yards to the Browns' 25 to set up the score.
The Browns retook the lead on a 41-yard field goal by Dawson with 2:42 to play in the game. The Browns started after the kickoff at their 30 with a 12-yard pass to Hillis. After a pass to Robiskie, Delhomme hit Hillis for a 12-yard gain on third-and-9 to the Panthers' 46.
Delhomme hit Massaquoi for 13 yards and then Robiskie for nine to the 24. After two short runs on failed to produce a first down, the Browns kicked the field goal.
After the field goal, an interception by Haden stopped the drive, but the Panthers got the ball back with 59 seconds to play an Clausen moved them into position for the win, but Kasay's attempt was just off the mark.
TD Peyton: RB Peyton Hillis had three rushing touchdowns to give him 11 on the season. He is the first Browns back to have 10 touchdowns since Kevin Mack did so in 1986. Hillis joins Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly as the only Browns running backs in team history to have 11 rushing touchdowns in a season. Kelly was the last one to do so in 1968. Hillis has 74 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the first half. Hillis also caught a pass for 21 yards. He finished with 26 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught six passes for 63 yards.
"Even with an eighth man in the hole, (Hillis), for the most part, can move that person our of the hole. He's a running back that stays in the game on all three downs. A lot of guys can do that, but he does that extremely well."
Jake's Back: QB Jake Delhomme returned to the starting lineup for the first time since starting the season opener. He had been sidelined with a high ankle sprain that was suffered in the first half against Tampa Bay in the first game. Delhomme was 12-of-18 for 149 yards in the first half. Delhomme was sacked and fumbled on the final play of the first half, but OL John St. Clair recovered to avoid a big disaster. Delhomme started the second half with two interceptions, one which was returned for a touchdown. He finished 24-of-35 for 245 yards and two interceptions.
"There were a ton of emotions I felt on a few levels," Delhomme said. "One, certainly (it was nice) beating a former team. And two, I haven't played in so long, I felt there would be some rust and I wanted to minimize it as much as possible."
Sack Attack: S Abe Elam sacked QB Jimmy Clausen for a 12-yard loss. He also had another sack in the second half. CB Sheldon Brown had eight tackles, while Elam had six tackles and LB Matt Roth had five. Roth had a sack in the third quarter.
Super Sophs: WR Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi combined for 11 catches and 102 yards. Robiskie had seven catches for 50 yards. He came into the game with nine receptions on the season.
"I was just happy to get the win," Robiskie said. "I was happy to do what I could do to help my team get a win because at the end of the day that is the only thing that matters."
Haden's Debut: Despite playing a lot this season, CB Joe Haden made his first NFL start at left cornerback for CB Eric Wright, who was injured in last week's game with Jacksonville. He intercepted QB Jimmy Clausen with 1:28 to play in the game.
"I thought the game was over," Haden said. "That's why I went to the ground."
Mitchell Sighting: Rookie WR Carlton Mitchell was used in an end around play for nine yards in the first quarter.
Brown Down: CB Sheldon Brown went out in the first quarter. Brown continued his streak of starting 139 straight games, which is the second longest among defensive backs. He did return and led the Browns in tackles at halftime.
It does mean a lot to win today," Brown said. "At the end of the day, that's what you fight for and we feel like we've been rewarded for practicing hard, doing the right things and sticking together."
Quick Returns: LB Eric Alexander, who replaced LB Blake Constanzo made the tackle on the opening kickoff.
St.Clair, Womack Back: The Browns started the right side of the offensive line the way the season started with OL Floyd Womack at right guard and John St. Clair at right tackle. The duo has battled knee and ankle injuries all season and have rarely been on the field at the same time.
Cribbs Active: Despite published reports that WR Josh Cribbs would most likely not play, he is active. Cribbs returned his first kickoff 16 yards.
Inactives: For the Browns: QB Colt McCoy, DB Eric Wright, RB Thomas Clayton, DL Brian Sanford, TE Alex Smith, WR Demetrius Williams, DL Jayme Mitchell and LB Scott Fujita. LB David Bowens started for Fujita and Joe Haden started at left cornerback for Wright. McCoy had started the previous five games, but suffered a high ankle sprain against the Jaguars.
Sherk, Michael Dean Honored: Former Browns Jerry Sherk and Michael Dean Perry were introduced prior to the game.