Panthers Overpower Browns For 20-12 Win
Posted October 8, 2006 5:02 a.m. EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cleveland's banged-up secondary held its own against Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson. Trouble was, the Browns had no answer for Carolina's defense.
Julius Peppers had a sack, forced a fumble and hit quarterback Charlie Frye five other times and Richard Marshall returned an interception for a touchdown as the Panthers beat Cleveland 20-12 Sunday.
Al Wallace also had a sack for Carolina (3-2), which held the Browns to 98 yards rushing in winning its third straight game.
Frye was 26-of-43 for 173 yards and two interceptions, the last by Mike Minter at the Carolina 14 with 2 minutes left that iced it.
Peppers, who came in tied for the league-lead with five sacks, constantly hounded Frye and the Browns, who managed only four field goals by Phil Dawson.
The Browns (1-4) played without both of their starting cornerbacks. Gary Baxter missed his third straight game with injured chest muscle, while Leigh Bodden was scratched after spraining his ankle in last week's win over Oakland.
Brodney Pool and Daven Holly started for the Browns, who also lost corner Daylon McCutcheon for the season to a knee injury in training camp. Holly also limped off the field late in the game.
Still, they held their own as Johnson had five catches for 67 yards and Smith was held to six catches for 62 yards. He also dropped a touchdown pass in the third quarter. But DeShaun Foster rushed for 106 yards and the Browns failed to win two in a row for the first time since 2003.
Smith went over 4,000 yards receiving when he caught a 7-yard pass late in the second quarter. But he dropped a touchdown pass on third down in the third quarter which forced a field goal and had two other drops. Carolina was 0-for-10 on third-down conversions.
The Panthers took a 7-3 lead thanks to Frye's eighth interception of the season. His pass bounced off Dennis Northcutt's hands and Marshall picked it off, racing 30 yards down the left sideline for his first career touchdown.
The Panthers extended the lead to 14-3 late in the second quarter on Jake Delhomme's 17-yard pass to Johnson, who outjumped Pool in the right corner of the end zone. Johnson, who has been critical of touchdown celebrations this season, waited for tackle Jeremy Bridges to reach him in the end zone. He then handed Bridges the ball and Bridges handed it to a fan in the stands.
But Johnson seemed to sense before the game who was going to be the key. When Peppers was introduced, Johnson got on his knees and genuflected.
In the closing seconds of the first half, Peppers sacked Frye, forced a fumble and recovered it, but John Kasay missed a 53-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
Joshua Cribbs, who had kickoff returns of 65 and 53 yards in last week's come-from-behind win in Oakland, returned a kickoff 64 yards and a punt 34 yards in the second half, both of which led to field goals.
The Browns were hurt when they lost Northcutt to a rib injury in the third quarter.
Reuben Droughns, who rushed for a career-high 193 yards against Carolina two years ago with Denver, was held to 65 yards on 18 carries.
Delhomme was 20-of-29 for 170 yards and no interceptions. He was sacked only once even though Carolina again played without starting center Justin Hartwig due to a groin injury.
Panthers rookie running back and kick returner DeAngelo Williams left the game late in the second quarter with a right ankle injury.