Panthers end losing streak, derail Browns' playoff hopes


CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Carolina Panthers were smiling, laughing
and hugging. A season soured by suspensions, an arrest and an ugly
fight was finally fun again.

Question on the Panthers: If DE Julius Peppers loses his appeal, has he done enough to win rookie defensive honors despite missing the final four games?
I think so. And I think the NFL will change the substance-abuse standard next year. The NFL has done an admirable job of trying to keep players from taking over-the-counter drugs that could potentially harm them (like weight-loss or diet drugs). I believe there should be a lesser penalty for a player's first offense before it escalates to a four-game suspension.

Question on the Browns: Was this the classic "trap" game for Cleveland?
Maybe. But for Carolina, when QB Rodney Peete has been healthy, the Panthers have had a chance to win ballgames. The Browns understood that, and today the Panthers were the better team.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

After nearly three months of self destruction, the Panthers
finally damaged somebody else's season.

Dee Brown rushed for 122 yards in his first career NFL start as
Carolina ended an eight-game losing streak Sunday with a 13-6 win
over Cleveland, crippling the sloppy Browns' playoff chances.

The Panthers (4-8), who began the season 3-0, won for the first
time since Sept. 22 and ended a string of futility that included
all sorts of off-field problems -- the most notable being wide
receiver Steve Smith's assault of teammate Anthony Bright during a
film session.

"So many bad things have happened to us,'' said tight end
Wesley Walls, who scored the game's lone touchdown. "That made
this one sweet, real sweet. This is our most satisfying win because
of what we've been through.''

During the losing streak, Carolina lost four games by three
points or fewer and had blown fourth-quarter leads in all four.

"A bounce finally went our way,'' said cornerback Reggie

Like so many of Cleveland's games in the past two seasons, this
one had some controversy as officials waved off an apparent
go-ahead TD by Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson with 1:57

The Browns (6-6) committed five turnovers and quarterback Tim Couch threw three interceptions, including one on a bobbled ball
that Carolina's Emmanuel McDaniel picked off with 1:45 left.

"This is a really tough loss because of how much it meant to
us,'' Couch said. "It's tough to take.''

Carolina quarterback Rodney Peete threw a 24-yard TD pass to
Walls in the first quarter.

Brown was filling in for Lamar Smith, the Panthers' leading
rusher and scorer, who was put on paid leave following an arrest on
drunken driving charges.

The second-year back from Syracuse helped Carolina rush for 158
yards and allowed the Panthers to control the clock late in the
fourth quarter.

On fourth-and-1 with 5:31 left, Brown avoided Robert Griffith's
tackle behind the line of scrimmage and ran for three yards and the
game's most important first down.

After Brown's gutty run, the Panthers had to settle for Shayne
Graham's 44-yard field goal with 2:53 left.

Moments later, the Browns' chances appeared to be over when
Reggie Howard picked off Couch's pass in front of Carolina's bench.
But Howard lost the ball as he hit the ground, and Johnson alertly
picked it up and ran 27 yards for an apparent TD.

However, the officials ruled Howard never had possession. The
Browns couldn't challenge the call because they were out of time
outs, and the play wasn't automatically reviewed because the snap
came with more than two minutes left.

Referee Walt Coleman said side judge Dave Wyant initially ruled
a fumble, but Wyant changed his call after conferring with the

"We talked about the fact that you have to come all the way to
the ground with the ball in your possession to have a completed
catch,'' Coleman said. "Then he said it was incomplete.''

McDaniel, who was released by the Browns this summer, sealed the
win with his second interception.

"The ball just bounced our way,'' he said. "It's about time.''

Carolina rookie defensive end Julius Peppers had a sack, knocked
down two passes and had several pressures in possibly his final
game this season. Peppers, who has 12 sacks, will have a hearing
Tuesday to appeal a four-game suspension for using a banned

"If it's the last game, it's a great way to go,'' he said.
``But I'm not looking at it that way. I'm ready to finish with four
wins in a row.''

Game notes
Browns WR/KR Dennis Northcutt sprained his right knee late
in the first half and didn't return. He left the stadium on
crutches. ... Browns rookie William Green's 94 rushing yards helped
Cleveland run for more than 100 yards for the third straight game.
It's the first time they've done that since '93. ... Brown came in
with only 119 career rushing yards in 10 games. ... Walls' TD was
Carolina's first in seven quarters.


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