It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy and, at times, it wasn’t enjoyable to watch, but Lady Luck finally blew on the right dice as the Browns held on to beat the 1-9 Panthers, 24-23.
After back-to-back last minute losses, the Browns built an early 21-7 lead and slowly tried to give the game away to the Panthers, finally prevailing when John Kasay’s 42-yard field goal attempt nailed the left upright as time expired.
The Browns seemed to seal the game when Joe Haden intercepted Jimmy Clausen’s pass with 1:30 left in the game. After three runs exhausted the Panthers timeouts, Reggie Hodges pinned the Panthers down at their own 5-yard-line with less than a minute left.
Hodges earned every penny of his contract extension on Sunday. In addition to the clutch punt, he pulled down a high snap on Phil Dawson’s game-winning field goal and picked up a first down by drawing roughing penalty on a third-quarter punt.
Clausen somehow marched the Panthers down the field to set up Kasay’s field goal attempt. It didn’t look good for the Browns after the refs inexplicably let Carolina receiver Brandon LaFell roll out of bounds despite being down at the Browns 24-yard-line. Rather than the clock running out on the Panthers, the refs botched call gave them a chance to set up for the winning field goal.
The Browns offense was once again led by running back Peyton Hillis, who ran for 131 yards, added a team-high 63 receiving yards and scored three rushing touchdowns. Hillis had a lot of success running left behind Lawrence Vickers, who had another monster day, Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas.
Hillis now has 13 total touchdowns on the season, 905 rushing yards and 414 receiving yards. For the year, Hillis has accounted for 37 percent of the Browns offensive yards and 62 percent of the team’s offensive touchdowns. General manager Tom Heckert should be named Executive of the Year for turning Brady Quinn into Hillis and additional draft picks.
Now for the bad part, namely the play of Jake Delhomme.
As we said in our game preview, the only way the Browns lose this game is if they have multiple turnovers and Delhomme did his best Derek Anderson impersonation to try and prove us right.
Holding a 21-13 lead to start the second half, Delhomme was intercepted on his first two passes of the half, the second a TAINT by Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn that cut the Browns lead to 21-20 and put what was once a sure win in doubt.
Delhomme was rusty and off target with several passes, which was to be excepted after missing eight weeks, but there were also the silly throws while running out of the pocket or being pulled down by a defender. We saw that in the Tampa game and the Atlanta game and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue if Delhomme is back under center next week.
And on a day when the Browns rushed for 4.8 yards a carry, they still felt the need to have Delhomme throw the ball 35 times. And while his completion percentage was almost identical from the first half (12-of-18) to the second half (12-of-17), Delhomme threw for less than 100 yards in the second half and had those two picks. Plus he almost lost a fumble on a sack.
And remember how we said Hillis was successful running behind Vickers all day? Well when the Browns drove to Carolina’s 25-yard-line early in the fourth quarter and faced a fourth-and-one, the Browns decided to go for it – which was the right call. Not so right was, after a timeout, they came out and ran Hillis out a formation that did not include Vickers. Hillis was stuffed, the Panthers went down and kicked a field goal, and suddenly the Browns were trailing.
But, in the end, the Browns won and that’s the most important thing. They didn’t play particularly well at times, and they were fortunate to be playing a team as bad as Carolina, but after some of the tough breaks that have come their way this season they deserved to come out on the right end of one of these games.
For this week at least, Lady Luck didn’t leave her escort and blow on some other guys dice. Hopefully she’ll want to hang around for next week’s trip to Miami, where the Browns haven’t won since 1970.