Panthers 23

(2-1, 1-1 away)

Browns 20

(2-1, 1-1 home)

8:00 PM ET, August 26, 2005


1 2 3 4 T
CAR 6 10 0 723
CLE 0 10 0 1020

Carolina 23, Cleveland 20

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Carolina Panthers saved their biggest mistakes for the worst time possible. Fortunately for them, so did the Cleveland Browns.

Rookie Efrem Hill caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Chris Weinke with 45 seconds left as the Panthers overcame some late penalties and rallied for a 23-20 exhibition win over the Cleveland Browns on Friday night.

Hill's TD capped a 43-yard drive that was set up by Cleveland running back Sultan McCullough's fumble with 3:08 to go.

Two minutes earlier, McCullough's 2-yard TD run after two defensive penalties against Carolina on third downs had given the Browns (2-1) a 20-16 lead.

"It wasn't all pretty, but we hit the plays that counted," said Weinke, who went 9-of-19 for 94 yards. "It seemed like we were stopping ourselves forever. I told the guys, 'Just stay focused, sooner or later we're going to bust one.' "

McCullough helped, and accepted blame for the loss.

"It hurts me," he said. "Nobody likes to lose it. I wish we could have had a little more time so I could come back and make a big play. Hopefully, they keep me around next week and I get another chance."

During Cleveland's go-ahead TD drive, Carolina cornerback Dante Westley was penalized for hitting rookie quarterback Charlie Frye with his helmet. Then safety Marlon McCree was assessed a personal foul for unnecessary roughness against rookie wide receiver Braylon Edwards in the end zone.

But those sins were forgiven when Panthers linebacker Adam Seward knocked the ball from McCullough and it was pounced on by Sean Tufts. The recovery came one play after John Kasay missed a 53-year field goal.

Before the late meltdown by their backups, the Panthers (2-1) looked more a like a team bent on getting back to the Super Bowl.

Jake Delhomme threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith just before halftime and Kasay kicked three field goals as the Panthers cleaned up some of their problems from a week ago, when they committed six turnovers and had nine penalties in a 28-10 loss to the Giants.

But Carolina's starters, who played into the third quarter, took care of the ball. The Panthers' first-team offense turned it over just once and didn't cost Carolina much yardage with mistakes.

The Panthers went from a 32-29 Super Bowl loss to New England two years ago to a 7-9 record they claim was a fluke caused by injuries.

"We're not a finished product," Panthers coach John Fox said. "But I'm proud of the way we battled back. We were efficient enough to win."

Delhomme finished 9-of-13 for 122 yards, hooking up with Smith with 8 seconds left in the second quarter.

"We did some good things," Delhomme said. "I'm disappointed that we got three field goals, but it was great to end the half the way we did."

William Green took another step toward winning back a starting job for Cleveland with a 4-yard TD run and starting quarterback Trent Dilfer went 15-for-23 for 168 yards. Cleveland had eight penalties, down from 12 last week.

"We made too many mistakes," Patriots coach Romeo Crennel said. "We're still getting penalties, even though it has improved, they're coming at critical times."

Green came into training camp in a three-way battle with Lee Suggs and Reuben Droughns for the Browns' starting job, and he has been the most productive and durable of the trio. Suggs missed his second straight game with a high ankle sprain.

Green had seven carries for 30 yards, and Droughns had 10 for 28. Crennel wanted more.

"Not enough," he said when asked to assess what he saw from his backs. "We didn't run the ball as efficiently as we need to."

Julius Peppers, Carolina's Pro Bowl defensive end, did not make the trip because of a foot injury. Panthers running back Stephen Davis, coming back from microfracture surgery on his right knee, was on the sideline in uniform -- without shoulder pads -- and didn't play.

Green's TD run with 36 seconds remaining in the half put the Browns ahead 10-9.

But Carolina's Jamal Robertson returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards, and Delhomme completed a 19-yard pass to fullback Brad Hoover. On second down, Delhomme waited while Smith got behind safety Sean Jones, who looked completely lost on the play.

Cleveland's Phil Dawson kicked two field goals, but was wide right on a 35-yarder in the third quarter.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


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