As much as the Browns have been encouraging in defeat often this year, they were certainly disappointing in victory against the Panthers Sunday. After leading 21-7 in the first half behind three Peyton Hillis touchdowns, it was a missed 42-yard field goal by Panthers kicker John Kasay as time expired that allowed the Browns to win. It was a game of highs and lows for both teams, and a spirited contest, especially considering both competitors’ current records.
It looked like the Browns were going to steam roll the lowly Panthers, who entered the game with the worst record in the NFL. Hillis looked unstoppable early. He had three rushing touchdowns in the Browns’ first four offensive possessions, and it probably would have been four for four if TE Evan Moore didn’t fumble the ball on the Panthers 3-yard line early in the second quarter. Hillis finished the game with over 190 all purpose yards.
On the year Hillis has 905 rushing yards and 415 receiving yards. He leads the Browns in receptions with 46, and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with two. His thirteen total touchdowns this early in the season puts him in the company of Cleveland Browns royalty, Hall-of-Famers Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. When reporters mentioned these comparisons during his post game press conference, however, Hillis immediately cut them off saying, “That’s just absurd. Those guys are legends, and I’m nobody, so we don’t need to talk about that no more.”
Despite the great play of Hillis, the Panthers managed to claw their way back into the game due to poor play by the Browns defense, and costly interceptions thrown by former Panther and current Browns QB Jake Delhomme. The poor defense for the Browns had to be the most disappointing aspect of the game. They allowed four scoring drives (1 TD, 3 FG) to what is by far the league’s worst offense. The Panthers came into the game averaging less than 12 ppg. If you count the two missed field goals by Kasay, that makes for six times the Browns defense let the Panthers into scoring range.
After allowing the Panthers to retake the lead midway through the 4th, the defense had a chance to put the game away when the Browns own kicker Phil Dawson put them back ahead by one point with 2:42 on the clock. It seemed they had done their job when rookie CB Joe Haden got his 4th interception of the year with 1:28 to play. The Browns offense could not get a first down to end the game, but a good punt by Reggie Hodges pinned the Panthers on their own 5-yard line with under a minute to play and no time outs remaining. Somehow, the Browns defense allowed rookie QB Jimmy Clausen to rip off huge chunks of yardage and get his team into field goal range. Lucky for the Browns, the veteran Kasay just missed, hitting the left upright and bouncing out.
To be fair, the field goal attempt by Kasay probably shouldn’t have even happened. With twelve seconds on the clock, Clausen completed a 28-yard pass to receiver Brandon LaFell, who was touched by Browns CB Sheldon Brown before he rolled out of bounds. The clock should have expired. The catch came under review for some reason that few can explain, LaFell was ruled in bounds when he caught the ball, but the clock stopped. Perhaps it was karma for the Browns and their coach, Eric Mangini, who is struggling to keep his job. After a seemingly endless streak of bad breaks, some of which were self-inflicted of course, it seems the Browns finally ran up against a team who is more snake-bit than themselves.
It must have felt like old times for former Panther Jake Delhomme, who actually completed more touchdown passes to his old team than his current. After it looked like the Browns were just going to ride their prize horse Hillis to the easy win, they came out throwing in the second half. Delhomme, who is no stranger to the interception, threw two picks. One of the two was run back for a defensive touchdown by Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn. Getting turnovers was basically the only chance the Panthers had in this game. A veteran such as Delhomme really should have taken better care of the ball, but like they say, you can’t teach and old dog (or Panther) new tricks. Look for the Browns to go back to Seneca Wallace next week if Colt McCoy is not back from his ankle injury.
At the end of the day, a win is a win is a win. I guess some just don’t taste as sweet as others. Hopefully the Browns will bounce back. They have a few more winnable games down the stretch, it would be nice to see them finish out the season strong.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.