The Packers fell to 0-2 for the first time since Mike Sherman's first season as head coach in 2000.
"It feels pretty bad," said Sherman. "Last year felt pretty bad, but this feels bad."
The Packers began the season 1-1 last year and slipped to 1-4 before finishing 10-6 in the regular season. Sherman said his team was as focused before a game than since the Monday night game in Oakland in 2003 when the team dominated the Oakland Raiders a few days after Brett Favre's father, Irvin, died of a heart-attack.
The Packers honored the late Reggie White by retiring his number 92 during a special halftime ceremony. Yet, the Packers stumbled in much the same fashion as a week earlier in their 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions with a sluggish offense and turnovers.
"They knew what was at stake," Sherman said. "That locker room was as quiet, you could have dropped a pin in there. The last time a locker room was that quiet was on a Monday night out in Oakland. We had talked about this game and how Cleveland was going to give us their very best shot and how important it was for them to beat us here. We covered all of our bases and played with a sense of urgency. We just didn't make all the necessary plays we need to make to win this ballgame, or make the necessary calls as coaches to win this game. We're all in this together."
With chants of "Reggie! Reggie!" cascading onto the field, Dilfer found tight end Steve Heiden for a 62-yard touchdown on third-and-5 with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining as the Browns stretched their lead to 26-17. The Packers responded with a 78-yard touchdown drive, capped by Favre's 4-yard touchdown pass to running back Tony Fisher with 4 seconds left, but it was too little too late.
"Right now we are in a deep hole," said Packers wide receiver Donald Driver. "We have to find a way to get out of it. It has to start next week."
The Packers play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) on Sept. 25 at Lambeau Field. The Buccaneers are coming off a win over Buffalo on Sunday.
Green Bay, 4-4 at home last year, hasn't won a home opener since 2002 and have all but lost the Lambeau Field mystique since the late White played for the Packers from 1993-98.
"To be able to come to this place and hang in at the end and finally pull it out and get our first victory, I think the team deserves a lot of credit for that," said Browns first-year coach Romeo Crennel. "We talked to them all week about being disciplined and staying the course and hanging into the fourth quarter."
Dilfer's 80-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Braylon Edwards gave the Browns a 19-7 lead late in the third quarter. The score came two plays after Favre threw his fourth interception of the season and second of the game. The Packers moved 59 yards to the Browns' 20 on Favre's nine-yard pass to wide receiver Robert Ferguson. Two plays later, Favre went to Ferguson again in the corner of the end zone, but cornerback Gary Baxter got position to snare the jump ball and kill the drive.
That turnover turned into seven points for the Browns when Edwards juked around cornerback Joey Thomas and caught a pass in stride from Dilfer. Edwards shot past rookie safety Nick Collins and scored his first touchdown of the season.
Green Bay again marched downfield on the Browns, moving to the Cleveland 15 on Favre's 16-yard pass to Antonio Chatman. But Favre fumbled a snap, then threw incomplete to Ferguson when it appeared that he had room to run for a first down. On third-and-10, Favre's pass was off the mark to wide receiver Donald Driver, who appeared to get held by cornerback Daylon McCutcheon well beyond the line of scrimmage.
Kicker Ryan Longwell salvaged the drive by making a 34-yard field goal attempt to close the Packers to 19-10.
"Usually you can put it on third down conversions," Sherman said. "Just haven't been able to finish off drives. We have had a number of them. ... We don't have a problem I don't believe moving the football. It's just finishing off drives in the red zone, getting the necessary points, getting field goals, not getting touchdowns."
The Packers finished the game with 452 yards of offense, including 116 yards rushing. But penalties, which haunted the Packers in their season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions last week, continued to hamper Green Bay's offense and field position in the first half against the Browns. Cleveland also took advantage of a first-quarter interception for a 13-7 halftime lead.
"You have to stay at manageable down and distances and you can do that by making positive plays or not making costly penalties or silly mistakes," Favre said. "We all know it's the little things that will win ball games for you and obviously it's the little things that will lose ball games for you."
The Packers took the opening drive of the game and quickly moved 80 yards on 10 plays, highlighted by Favre's 42-yard touchdown pass to Driver. But the Browns answered with a 71-yard march for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. Linebacker Nick Barnett's pass interference penalty in the end zone on tight end Billy Miller set up Dilfer's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Steve Heiden.
Dawson gave the Browns a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. Cleveland cornerback Daylon McCutcheon intercepted a Favre pass that was deflected high into the air by linebackers Andra Davis and Kenard Lang. McCutcheon returned the ball 14 yards to Green Bay's 22.
Cleveland pounded the ball to the Packers' 6, but Green Bay's defense forced the Browns to settle for a field goal when defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila dropped running back Reuben Droughns for a loss of 8 yards to the 14. On third and goal, Dilfer passed for 11 yards to Heiden to the 3, forcing the field goal attempt.
Dawson's 39-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the first half gave the Browns a 13-7 lead. Cleveland was forced to settle for the field goal when Dilfer was pushed out of bounds at the 22, three yards short of a first down. Dilfer completed four passes to four different receivers in the 62-yard drive, including a 13-yarder to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt and an 11-yarder to wide receiver Braylon Edwards that moved the Browns to the Packers' 28.
Dilfer was 13 of 17 for 135 yards for a 118.5 passer rating in the first half. He finished the game by completing 21 of 32 passes for a passer rating of 131.8 and his first win in 10 tries at Lambeau Field.
"This is big to come up here and erase some of those demons," said Dilfer.