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Panthers' spirits grow after beating Browns

©Associated Press
December 2, 2002

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

Dee Brown rushed for 122 yards in his first start as Carolina ended an eight-game losing streak Sunday with a 13-6 victory against Cleveland.

The Panthers, who began the season 3-0, won for the first time since Sept.22.

"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 or fewer and blew fourth-quarter leads in all four.

Like other Cleveland games during the past two seasons, this one had some controversy as officials waved off an apparent go-ahead score by Kevin Johnson with 1:57 left.

The Browns, who severely damaged their playoff hopes, committed five turnovers, and Tim Couch threw three interceptions, including one on a bobbled ball that 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."

Rodney Peete threw a 24-yard touchdown to Walls during the first quarter.

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

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

On fourth and 1 with 5:31 left, Brown avoided a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and ran for 3 yards.

The Panthers had to settle for Shayne Graham's 44-yard field goal with 2:53 left.

Moments later, the game appeared to be over when Reggie Howard picked off Couch. But Howard lost the ball as he hit the ground. Johnson picked it up and ran 27 yards for an apparent touchdown.

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

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

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