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
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
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
"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
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.