CLEVELAND — Take a cue from Jake Delhomme and enjoy this win.
“I didn’t enjoy wins toward the end of my career in Carolina,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy this win. I’m very disappointed in a couple of series I had back-to-back. Those will eat at me tonight, tomorrow and this week. But it was good to get a win.”
In the end, Carolina Panthers kicker John Kasay missed a 42-yard-field goal as time expired to give the Browns a 24-23 win over the NFL’s worst team. Cleveland improves to 4-7. Carolina drops to a league-worst 1-10.
Those are the basic facts resulting from the Browns’ win. This game had many layers, yet, in the end, the Browns got a ‘W.’
With five seconds remaining, Kasay lined up to attempt a game-winning field goal. Browns coach Eric Mangini and many Browns fans around the world were doing their best unclean-language Rex Ryan impersonation. Mangini kept his mimicking to the tiny voice in his head.
“There were too many expletives going through my mind at that point,” said Mangini after the game. “We should not be here lining up for a kick. I had to get over that quickly and hope we got enough pressure to get a block or force it to go wide.”
Why were the Browns in that position? It starts with Delhomme, who got his first start since the opener at Tampa Bay on Sept. 13. Delhomme was playing his former team and he and the Browns offense looked inspired early.
Peyton Hillis’ third touchdown run of the first half gave the Browns a 21-7 lead with 9:16 remaining in the first half. The Panthers looked done.
Instead, it was the Browns offense that took a break. The Browns’ next four possessions began with a three-and-out followed by Delhomme’s personal turnover bonanza punctuated by a pick-six.
On the final play of the first half, Delhomme had the ball knocked free by Tyler Brayton before John St. Clair recovered it. In the third quarter, Delhomme’s next two pass attempts resulted in an interception by Jon Beason and an interception returned 37 yards for a touchdown by Captain Munnerlyn.
“Turnovers were an issue and the pick-six changed the completion of the game,” Mangini said.
Sure did. Suddenly, with 12:18 remaining in the third quarter, the Browns lead was trimmed to 21-20. The Browns collected 221 of their total 379 in the first half. In the second half, the Browns offense was inept. They had six possessions, two ended in an interception, two ended with a punt, one on a turnover on downs and, thankfully, one ended with what proved to be the game-winning field goal.
Phil Dawson capped a nine-play, 46-yard drive with a 41-yard field goal with 2:47 remaining in the game to put the Browns ahead 24-23.
“Having spent 12 years here and especially with how difficult each and every kick is, there are not chip shots or no gimmies,” Dawson said. “(I had) zero confidence on my field goal. You got to trust your preparation and ignore your emotions.”
Emotions range far and wide after winning a game in this fashion. Entering today, the Browns have lost five of their seven games by a seven points or less.
No doubt there is anger at the poor second-half offense, directed mostly at Delhomme. No doubt there is anger directed at the defense that allowed the Panthers to drive 71 yards in 59 seconds with no time outs and attempt a game-winning field goal.
Yet on Sunday, the final break finally went the Browns way. Kasay missed that field goal.
“The way things have been going around here, all those close games, it finally makes me feel like luck is back on our side,” Hillis said. “The ball is finally rolling our way. When I found out that kick is no good, it was the best feeling in the world.”