CLEVELAND -- Cleveland's defense made stop after stop, big play after big play, against the NFL's top-ranked offense throughout Sunday's showdown with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Browns just needed one more on this day, as Andrew Luck drove the Colts 90 yards to score a game-winning touchdown with 32 seconds to play and escape FirstEnergy Stadium with a 25-24 win. It's the first time all season the Browns have lost two consecutive games.
The Browns fell to 7-6 on a day when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens won and the Cincinnati Bengals lost.
"It's a kick in the gut," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "It's an opportunity that we let go."
Luck connected with T.Y. Hilton on a 1-yard touchdown pass to cap the 11-play, 90-yard drive and give the Colts their first lead of the game. A 27-yard pass to Donte Moncrief on third down and a big pass interference penalty preceded Luck's third-down completion to Coby Fleener, who moved the Colts to the 12. Luck followed with a scramble to the 3-yard line and Daniel "Boom" Herron put the Colts at the 1 with a 2-yard run on fourth-and-inches. Hilton quickly followed with his 10th and biggest catch of the game.
Brian Hoyer's long pass intended for Travis Benjamin on the ensuing drive was intercepted with 2 seconds to play to officially send the Browns what players described as a crushing loss.
"It's very frustrating," safety Donte Whitner said. "At the end of the day, we are a team. Special teams, offense and defense. It doesn't go on one side of the ball. We have to get better and do the small things. That is going to help us win these football games."
The frustration stemmed from another week of missed opportunities on offense. The Browns' defense forced four turnovers and scored two touchdowns while bottling up the potent Colts attack for most of the game.
The Browns gained 61 yards, picked up just three first downs in the second half and ran 24 plays to the Colts' 46.
"I know we're going to look at certain plays here and there that could have been the difference in the game and that's what's going to hurt the most because it was so close," said Hoyer, who was 14-of-31 for 140 yards and two interceptions. "Obviously, that's a really good team we're playing and when you play good teams, you can't miss those opportunities."
Cleveland held a lead from the start of the second half until Hilton's second touchdown of the day and built its biggest lead of the game early in the third quarter after a big play from the its top 2014 draft selection.
Facing heavy pressure from Ahtyba Rubin, Luck sent a second-down pass intended for Reggie Wayne directly into the hands of Justin Gilbert. The eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft made the biggest play of his Browns career as he nabbed his first interception, darted to the other side of the field and scored on a 23-yard return.
"I thought the pick-six was a play that he missed an interception on a couple weeks ago on the same call and found it," Pettine said of Gilbert, who was inactive last week because of an illness. "Then, obviously he showed his skills finding the end zone. Very proud of Justin. It's a tough week. I thought he had a great week of practice, and it showed in the game."
The Colts sliced the deficit to 21-10 on the following drive on a 51-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. The key play of the drive was a Browns penalty, as Paul Kruger was called for roughing the passer on what was originally a third-down sack.
The lead dwindled to 5 when T.Y. Hilton nabbed a 42-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter and to 21-19 when Vinatieri line-drived a 33-yard field goal 10 seconds into the fourth.
Hilton caught nine of his 10 catches for 141 of his 150 yards in the second half.
"They made some good calls," cornerback Joe Haden said. "They were just able to make plays down the stretch."
The Browns offense didn't pick up a first down on its first three series of the second half and punted on four in a row. Its fifth, which started at the Colts' 23 after a Jim Leonhard interception, ended with a 39-yard Billy Cundiff field goal, staking the defense to a 24-19 lead with 8:34 to play.
The Browns' defense played one of its best halves of the season to limit the top-ranked Colts offense to 117 yards and one touchdown in the first half. With a heavy dose of blitzes and tight coverage on the perimeter, Cleveland held the Colts scoreless on their first six possessions. Indianapolis' array of talented receivers caught just two passes for 11 yards.
The performance reached its peak when Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant combined to bring down Luck near the goal line with Kruger forcing the ball loose. Linebacker Craig Robertson fell on it to put the Browns ahead, 7-0, late in the first quarter.
Kruger leads the Browns with nine sacks on the season.
The Colts broke through midway through the second quarter when Luck used his legs to start and finish a touchdown drive. Sandwiched in between were short passes down the middle of the field to tight ends and running backs. His 11-yard scramble with 5:57 in the half tied the score, 7-7.
Luck, who threw for 294 yards, led the Colts with 37 rushing yards in a game that saw the Browns limit the Colts to 93 yards on 20 attempts.
"He used his legs to improvise, which enabled him to extend plays," Haden said. "He did a very good job of that."
The Browns bounced right back to take a 14-7 lead into the half. After Hoyer overthrew a wide-open Taylor Gabriel on a deep ball, he settled down and delivered three key throws to put the Browns inside the red zone. After a 12-yard Gabriel catch, Isaiah Crowell plowed 9 yards for his eighth touchdown of the season with 1:14 left in the half.
The Browns host Cincinnati next Sunday for their final 2014 regular season game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"It's all about winning games right now," Leonhard said.