After his defense got gashed early but got the job done late late, Gregg Williams' Browns celebrated a hot streak and headed into the night with perplexing questions.

CLEVELAND  Gregg "Every Day Is A Job Interview" Williams gave the right answer to "what have you done for me lately?"

Sunday's 26-20 win has the Browns on a 3-1 hot streak, wipe-your-eyes magic for an outfit that was 4-44 the previous three years.

If the Browns somehow win out against the Broncos, Bengals and Ravens, they will be 6-2 with Williams as interim head coach. At that point, the question almost becomes, "How do you NOT retain Williams as head coach for 2019?"

Actually, one could argue that Williams has a better chance to stay on as head coach than he does of sticking around as defensive coordinator under whomever might be the head coach of John Dorsey's dreams.

Williams has been defensive coordinator all year. The big picture on his side of the ball has been choppy overall and embarrassing at times.

Sunday's win came down to needing a stop to protect a 26-20 lead with the Panthers starting a drive on their own 25. Allowing Cam Newton to advance 66 yards to a first-and-goal at the 9 wasn't exactly imposing one's will.

The Browns deserve props for holding their ground on three consecutive plays after Newton reached second down at the 3. They were both lucky and good in that sequence.

In Williams' mind, the attitude was all good down the stretch. The first-half tackling had disgusted him.

"I can't tell you what I said in the locker room," he said.

The Panthers got only a field goal in the second half.

"Every blade of grass has to be important," Williams said. "Whose blade of grass is it? Our or theirs.

"Every blade of grass became important to us. The leadership was outstanding. Schobes (Joe Schobert) and those guys did some really good things leadership wise."

Nursing a 23-20 lead early in the fourth quarter, T.J. Carrie broke up a well-thrown bomb to Curtis Samuel, forcing a punt.

"We squatted on the route," Williams said. "You can blame me for that. We were playing the tendencies we had seen. (Carrie) did a great job separating the ball after the catch."

"We had a chance on that play," Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said. "(Carrie) got his hand in there and pulled it out at the last second."

Instead of first down in field goal range, the Panthers punted.

Carolina's play caller, Norv Turner, worked a season in Cleveland and was furious when head coach Rob Chudzinski got fired at the end of it. Turner's plan turned Williams' defense every which way but in correct position early.

The second play of the game was a 25-yard completion to Samuel on which Newton had all day to throw. On third-and-9, Christian McCaffrey, who arrived with 80 catches, somehow got wide open for an easy first down. McCaffrey's subsequent 5-yard TD run was way too easy.

"What Norv and those guys did schematically was really good," Williams said. "You see the plan and you see the formations, and our guys were on top of all that.

"All of a a sudden, a play in space would come up and we would miss a tackle."

It wasn't the first time.

Williams' unit gave up 393 yards and is allowing 411.2 game for the year. That's an expansion-era worst. The 1999 Browns, a first-year expansion team, allowed 377.9 yards a game.

Ray Horton's 2016 defense holds the expansion-era record at 392.4.

The yards-allowed figures tied to other recent coordinators are 366.1 and 379.2 (Jim O'Neil in 2014 and 2015), 332.4 (Horton in 2013), 332.4 and 363.8 (Dick Jauron in 2011 and 2012), and 389.3 and 350.1 (Rob Ryan in 2009 and 2010).

Williams' unit is one of just three (Chiefs, Bengals) allowing more than 400 yards a game. Baltimore began the day leading the league at 281.7.

Points matter more than yards, and Williams' unit is better in that area, ranking 20th. In some of the losses, though, points have been allowed at the worst possible times.

On Sunday, Baker Mayfield had just given the stadium a big lift with a TD bomb on third and long. On the first play after the kickoff, the defense gave up a 40-yard catch and run. It led to a field goal and a 17-14 Carolina lead.

It was 17-17 when the defense whiffed at the line of scrimmage on a play that became a 25-yard McCaffrey gain. That led to a 20-17 Carolina lead.

Williams was working without prized rookie Denzel Ward, but that's life in the big city.

In the end, the defense was good enough to win. Such has been the case three times within the last four games.

Given recent Browns history, that's practically cause for a parade.

With three games left, though, it likely will take the defense's best work of Williams' two Cleveland seasons to buy him as third one, in whatever capacity.

 

Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP