The Cleveland Browns did everything they could to lose a game Sunday, but still wound up winning.
John Kasay's misfortune was the Browns' good fortune. Kasay, the Panthers' normally reliable kicker, missed a 42-yard attempt on the final play of the game after rookie Jimmy Clausen had guided Carolina on a near-impossible final drive from Carolina's 5.
The look on coach Eric Mangini's face said everything, as the Browns tried their best to give a game to Carolina but failed only because Kasay missed.
How did they do this? Several ways.
First, they gave up a 32-yard pass-and-run on third-and-10 from Clausen to Mike Goodson. How the Browns let a back turn a short catch into a big gain with the game on the line bordered on inexplicable.
Then they let Clausen complete a 25-yard pass to the sideline after a spike, setting up Kasay's miss.
Earlier, the Browns had fourth-and-1 on Carolina's 24 with a one-point lead. They chose to go for the first down and missed. Later, on third-and-1 with Peyton Hillis running like a madman, they chose a quick-snap quarterback sneak. It failed.
Finally, quarterback Jake Delhomme threw two second-half interceptions, one that Carolina returned for a touchdown.
Yet the Browns won - on this Sunday they were the epitome of the team that would rather be lucky than good. Or smart.
REPORT CARD vs. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- One half does not make a football game, so a good first half does not offset a weak second one. Jake Delhomme started well against his old teammates, but did his best to give Carolina the game in the second. Delhomme's two interceptions led to seven points for the Panthers - and would have been more if not for a replay ruling that overturned what seemed to be a first down catch by the Panthers. Delhomme did lead the Browns to a go-ahead field goal, but the Browns' second-half struggles almost cost them another win.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A - What more can be asked from Peyton Hillis? He is a 100-yard and touchdown machine. Without him, the offense would be lost. Hillis carried the Browns in the first half, was slowed a bit in the second but then came up with key catches and runs after the catch on the go-ahead field goal drive. Hillis has been far and away the team MVP this season.
PASS DEFENSE: D - The Browns were facing a rookie quarterback in Jimmy Clausen and had him pinned at the 5-yard-line with less than a minute left. What did the defense do? Bust coverages, miss tackles and allow the Panthers to drive to the Browns' 25 in the final seconds. The only thing that saved the secondary was John Kasay's miss. The Browns' play in the final minute was flat-out poor.
RUSH DEFENSE: C - Jonathan Stewart averaged 8 yards per run. Mike Goodson averaged just short of 4. Stewart had a 31-yard run, Goodson a 26-yard touchdown. This is not good, no matter how it's explained. Teams that run the ball and stop the run win in the NFL. The Browns ran, but they didn't stop the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus - A unit that has been solid all season was solid again. The difference in the game's outcome was because Phil Dawson made his key field goal and John Kasay missed his. Reggie Hodges also had an under-the-radar good game. His punt in the final minute pinned Carolina at its 5, and his handling of a very high snap enabled Dawson to kick the game-winning field goal. It's a rare day when the Browns have an off day on special teams.
COACHING: D - A lot of questions can be asked after this game ... none of them with easy answers. Why were the Browns outplayed so badly the second half after looking so good the first half? Why did the offense ask Jake Delhomme to throw 35 times in his first start since the season opener? Why did the Browns go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 24 in the fourth quarter instead of taking an easy field goal that would have given Cleveland a four-point lead? Why was this win so hard when the first half made it seem like it could be easy? Losing this game could have been disastrous to Eric Mangini. It's hard to say what winning it means, but it sure wasn't impressive.