Final recap: Browns 24, Panthers 23 (click here for the box score)
The Browns prevailed after Carolina Panthers kicker John Kasay's 42-yard field-goal attempt brushed the left upright and missed as time expired. The Panthers (1-10) rallied in the second half and were in position to win, but the Browns (4-7) survived after a bizarre ending.The play that set up Kasay's final field-goal attempt and the subsequent replay review and ruling created a ton of confusion. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell caught a pass from quarterback Jimmy Clausen and rolled out of bounds at Cleveland's 24-yard line with five seconds left. The catch was reviewed, and the officials ruled that LaFell got out of bounds to stop the clock. But replays show Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown touched LaFell before he rolled out of bounds. Even Browns coach Eric Mangini was baffled. He thought the game would have been over if the pass was ruled complete because he didn't expect LaFell to be ruled out of bounds after securing the ball. Either way, Kasay missed the kick, and the Browns should consider themselves very lucky. They captured a 21-7 lead with 9:12 left in the second quarter, but they failed to bury the Panthers. Instead, they let them hang around and it nearly cost them in the end. No one reflected the Browns' mood after the game as well as Brown. "Today ran the range of emotions for me, including disappointment because I thought we didn’t execute at all today," he said. "I thought we should have had a killer instinct when we had control of the game early. The sign of a championship team is understanding your opponent and when you have a killer mentality, you attack and don’t let it become like the situation we had. This is something that we need to address and it starts from top to bottom. As a veteran, we will address it, watch the film and get better." The defense continues to miss tackles in the clutch. Two plays before LaFell's catch, linebacker Chris Gocong, rookie cornerback Joe Haden and defensive back Mike Adams missed tackles before safety Ray Ventrone finally stopped Panthers running back Mike Goodson after he turned a short pass into a 32-yard gain. The Browns also lost the turnover battled 3-1. Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme beat his former team, but he also threw two interceptions. Browns tight end Evan Moore had the team's other turnover -- a lost fumble on the Panthers' 2-yard line. On the bright side, running back Peyton Hillis (26 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns, plus six catches for 63 yards), fullback Lawrence Vickers and the Browns' offensive linemen were stellar in the running game. Hillis' third rushing touchdown of the day gave the Browns a 14-point advantage in the second quarter, but Kasay made two field goals -- 43 and 42 yards -- to trim Carolina's deficit to eight points at the end of the first half. The Browns snapped their two-game losing streak. The Panthers have the worst record in the NFL. Their lone win of the season was a 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 24.
End 1Q: Browns 14, Panthers 7 -- 1. Panthers running back Mike Goodson broke free off right tackle and bolted into the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown run. John Kasay made the extra-point kick, and the Panthers took a 7-0 lead with 10:36 left in the first quarter. 2. Browns running back Peyton Hillis busted loose off the left side to score a 9-yard touchdown run. Phil Dawson's successful PAT tied the score 7-7 with 6:49 left in the first quarter. 3. Hillis ran for a 5-yard touchdown with 2:44 left in the first quarter. Dawson's PAT was good, giving the Browns a 14-7 lead. Instant impressions -- 1. The Panthers punched the Browns in the mouth on their opening drive. They ran the ball seven times during their nine-play, 81-yard scoring march. The Browns missed several tackles during the drive, and defensive lineman Shaun Rogers was penalized for roughing the passer. 2. The Browns struck back during their first offensive possession. Quarterback Jake Delhomme completed his first five passes, but he almost threw an interception while being pressured. Luckily, Panthers defensive end Tyler Brayton couldn't haul in Delhomme's pass. 3. Hillis now has 10 rushing touchdowns this season. He's the first Browns running back to rush for 10 touchdowns since Kevin Mack in 1986. 4. The Panthers helped Hillis get there. They committed two penalties on third down, allowing the Browns to keep their seven-play, 64-yard touchdown drive alive.
End 2Q: Browns 21, Panthers 13 -- 1. Hillis rushed for his third touchdown of the game, a 6-yard run in which he leveled Panthers safety Charles Godfrey at Carolina's 3-yard line, with 9:12 left in the second quarter. Dawson made the PAT to give the Browns a 21-7 lead. 2. The Panthers trimmed their deficit to 21-10 with 3:19 remaining in the first half when Kasay made a 43-yard field goal. 3. Kasay made another field goal, this time from 42 yards, to cut the Browns' lead to 21-13 with 47 seconds left before halftime. Instant impressions 1. The Browns were on the verge of going ahead by two touchdowns, but tight end Evan Moore fumbled at the Panthers' 2-yard line after he caught a quick pass from Delhomme for a first down. The Browns' defense held the Panthers to a three-and-out after the fumble, but Cleveland still can't afford to waste scoring opportunities like the one Moore spoiled. 2. Delhomme was nearly intercepted by Godfrey, but then he rebounded with consecutive 15-yard completions to help set up Hillis' 11th rushing touchdown of the season third score of the day. Hillis joined Leroy Kelly and Jim Brown as the only Browns players to score at least 11 rushing touchdowns in a season. 3. The Panthers had to settle for a field goal after their drive stalled with about three and a half minutes left in the first half. Browns safety Abram Elam made a crucial play during that series when he sacked Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen for a 12-yard loss. 4. The Panthers orchestrated another drive just before halftime but could only get a field goal out of it. 5. The Browns dodged a bullet during the final play of the first half. Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson drove Browns right tackle John St. Clair back and forced Delhomme to fumble. The Browns are lucky St. Clair fell on the ball.
End 3Q: Browns 21, Panthers 20 -- 1. Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn intercepted a pass from Delhomme and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown with 12:18 left in the third quarter. The PAT was good, and the Panthers trimmed their deficit to 21-20. Instant impressions 1. Panthers middle linebacker Jon Beason intercepted a pass thrown by Delhomme on the first offensive play of the second half. 2. The Panthers didn't capitalize on their takeaway. Kasay missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 13:08 left in the third quarter. 3. The Browns did not get off to a good start in the second half. Delhomme was picked off on his first two passes after halftime. 4. The Panthers continue to bail out the Browns. Panthers defensive end Eric Norwood ran into Browns punter Reggie Hodges near the end of the third quarter. The penalty gave the Browns a first down.
End 4Q: Browns 24, Panthers 23 -- 1. Kasay made a 43-yard field goal with 7:01 left in the fourth quarter to cap a nine-play, 51-yard drive and give the Panthers a 23-21 advantage.2. Browns kicker Phil Dawson gave Cleveland a 24-23 lead by making a 41-yard field goal with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter. Instant impressions -- 1. The Browns faced a fourth-and-1 on the Panthers' 25-yard line with 11:40 left in the fourth quarter, and they decided to go for the first down instead of settling for a field-goal attempt. Hillis ran up the middle. The officials measured, and the Browns fell short of the first down with 11:33 left. For some reason, fullback Lawrence Vickers was not in the game when the Browns went for it. 2. Elam recorded his second sack of the day. 3. Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart is punishing the Browns with big gains. 4. Stewart's 31-yard run set up Kasay's go-ahead field goal. 5. On fourth-and-1 from the Panthers' 24-yard line with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter, the Browns chose to kick a field goal. Dawson made it. 6. Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden recorded a clutch interception with 1:28 left. Haden has recorded an interception in three consecutive games. 7. Despite Haden's pick, the Panthers got the ball back after the Browns went three-and-out. All the plays were runs by Hillis. 8. Browns punter Reggie Hodges pinned the Panthers back at their own 5-yard line with 59 seconds left. 9. On second-and-1o from the Panthers' 48-yard line, Clausen hit wide receiver Brandon LaFell with a 28-yard pass with five seconds left. The play was reviewed, but the call on the field stood. 10. Kasay missed the potential game-winning field goal to the left as time expired.
Top storylines -- 1. Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme will start for the first time since the Sept. 12 season opener. His return from a high-ankle sprain could not have come at a more interesting time because Delhomme will be pitted against his former team. He played for the Panthers for seven seasons and led them to the Super Bowl during the 2003 season. Last year, the Panthers waived Delhomme after he threw 18 interceptions and suffered a broken finger. 2. The Browns' rookie quarterback, Colt McCoy, will be sidelined with a high-ankle sprain, but his Panthers counterpart, Jimmy Clausen, will start. Clausen was cleared to play this past week after suffering a concussion on Nov. 14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 3. The Browns desperately need to prove they can defeat teams they're favored against. So far this season, the Browns have not prevailed when they have held perceived advantages. Browns coach Eric Mangini needs to defeat opponents like the Panthers if he wants to remain in Cleveland next season. 4. The Browns might be able to use their top playmaker again. Josh Cribbs is officially active after dislocating toes on his right foot on Nov. 14 against the New York Jets. He was sidelined last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he didn't practice all week. It will be interesting to see how much Cribbs can do today.
Inactive players: Browns -- QB Colt McCoy, CB Eric Wright, RB Thomas Clayton, DL Brian Sanford, TE Alex Smith, WR Demetrius Williams, DL Jayme Mitchell and LB Scott Fujita. Panthers -- QB Brian St. Pierre, Armanti Edwards (listed as the team's third quarterback), RB Tyrell Sutton, S Marcus Hudson, S Jordan Pugh, LB Abdul Hodge, DT Andre Neblett and G Travelle Wharton.
Lineup changes: Browns -- Joe Haden will start at cornerback in place of Wright; David Bowens will start at linebacker in place of Fujita. Panthers -- Jason Williams will start at linebacker in place of Nic Harris; Mackenzy Bernadeau will start at left guard in place of Wharton; Mike Goodson will start at running back in place of Jonathan Stewart.