CLEVELAND — John Kasay just missed, and Jake Delhomme breathed a sigh of relief.
Kasay's 42-yard field goal attempt grazed the left upright as time expired Sunday, allowing the Cleveland Browns to escape with a 24-23 win over Carolina and giving ex-Panthers quarterback Delhomme a little satisfaction.
Kasay had a chance to win it for the Panthers (1-10) after rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen drove them to Cleveland's 25, completing a sideline pass to Brandon LaFell with five seconds left.
After the play was reviewed by officials, Kasay pulled his kick just wide to the left, ending another tight game for coach Eric Mangini and the Browns (4-7), who led 21-7 at halftime.
Cleveland's Peyton Hillis rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns, and Delhomme passed for 245 yards in his first start at home for the Browns, who signed him in March after he was released by Carolina.
Before Kasay missed, the Browns were in danger of adding an embarrassing loss to a string of tough setbacks this season. Last week, they lost in Jacksonville despite forcing six turnovers and losing rookie quarterback Colt McCoy with an ankle injury.
This time, the Browns got lucky and improved to 2-5 in games decided by seven points or less. The win also got Delhomme off the hook after he threw a costly interception in the second half that Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn returned 37 yards for a TD to pull the Panthers within 21-20.
Kasay's 43-yard kick put Carolina ahead with 7:01 left.
Delhomme bounced back from two interceptions in the second half by going 5-for-5 on Cleveland's drive in the fourth that set up Phil Dawson's 41-yard field goal. Holder Reggie Hodges did a nice job controlling a high snap before Dawson's kick made it 24-23 with 2:42 left.
Clausen tried to respond, but threw an interception directly to rookie cornerback Joe Haden with under two minutes left.
The Panthers appeared to be done, but they used their timeouts wisely and got the ball back at their own 5 with 59 seconds left after Hodges pinned them deep.
On third-and-10, Clausen completed a pass to running back Mike Goodson, who broke several tackles for a 32-yard gain. After spiking the ball to preserve time, Clausen, who missed last week with a concussion, found LaFell near the Panthers sideline.
LaFell alertly rolled out of bounds to stop the clock, but the Panthers had to sweat out a review in case the officials determined time should have run out.
Kasay trotted out for the game-winner, but couldn't connect as Carolina dropped its fourth straight and put coach John Fox's job in further peril.
Hillis had TD runs of 9, 5 and 6 yards in the first half. He has 11 TDs, joining Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly as the only backs in Cleveland history to have that many in one season.
Delhomme wasn't seeking revenge against the Panthers, who waived him in March, but he got some anyway. He finished 24 of 35, did some good things and did some bad ones. He went 2-for-2 to start the second half with both completions going to the visitors in the white jerseys.
On Cleveland's second possession, Delhomme locked in on Mohamed Massaquoi and Munnerlyn stepped in front to pick off the pass and return it for the TD, pulling the Panthers within 21-20.
It was the type of play that precipitated Carolina's decision to cut Delhomme, who threw a career-high 18 picks last season — his seventh with the Panthers.
Hillis' third TD made it 21-7 in the second. Rampaging right, he lowered his head and flattened safety Charles Goodson at the 2 before cruising into the end zone. He dropped to a knee, flexed his massive biceps and pointed to the sky just a few from where a “Peyton's Place” banner dangled over the front wall of the Dawg Pound.
An Arkansas native, Hillis has become a cult hero in Cleveland, which has long adored its players and especially its star running backs.
The down-home country boy identifies with this city's blue-collar, hard-working sensibility. He came to Cleveland in a trade for quarterback Brady Quinn.
Hillis has been the one constant during a season in which all three Browns quarterbacks have suffered high ankle sprains.