Upon further review, the Browns have had better days at the booth.
Three plays that were initially ruled in Cleveland's favor Sunday at Bank of America Stadium were ultimately overturned. None were game-changing moments, but they played a part in stymying any momentum the Browns tried to generate on a day mostly controlled by Carolina's time possession-hogging offense.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera came into Sunday's game 4-for-16 on challenges during his four-year stint with the Panthers. His average improved significantly after he threw the flag on a potential Josh Gordon first-down catch in the second quarter and a fourth-quarter Carolina pass to Brenton Bersin that was initially ruled incomplete.
The play to Gordon came on Duke Johnson Jr.'s best possession as the Browns' starting quarterback. Though Manziel's footwork was out of whack, he delivered a catchable quick slant to Gordon on third-and-3 from the Panthers' 25-yard line. The play appeared to give the Browns a first down inside the red zone, but a review showed Gordon didn't have complete control of the ball on his way to the ground.
The Browns connected on a field goal to tie the score, 3-3.
Bersin's play occurred in the same area of the field. Cam Newton's pass was high and required Bersin to leap and fall awkwardly as he tried to corral the ball. An official sprinted toward Bersin and ruled the ball hit the ground as he fell to the turf, but another look at the play showed Bersin had control of it.
The challenge was risky for Carolina because it would have been without any timeouts with more than 7 minutes to play if it wasn't overturned. It proved worthwhile, as the Panthers took over at the Browns' 9-yard line and scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.
Earlier in the quarter, an automatic booth review negated a Justin Gilbert fumble recovery inside Carolina territory, but the Browns recovered nicely. After forcing a punt, the offense promptly notched its longest play of the year, an 81-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Jordan Cameron, that briefly gave the Browns the lead.
It wasn't a complete wash at the booth, as a review of Travis Benjamin's fumble recovery on a Carolina interception return midway through the fourth quarter simply confirmed the ruling.
A Billy Winn interception helped set up a Garrett Hartley field goal in the third quarter, but the Browns were hoping for more after Winn dished the ball to defensive back Jordan Poyer, who had a clear path to the end zone. Winn, who dove to intercept the pass, was ruled down and the play was dead before Poyer crossed the goal line because Winn did not initially attempt to advance the ball, officials said.
"I know that's a judgment call," coach Mike Pettine said, "and it's the way they judged it."
Other news and notes
-- Pettine did not have injury updates on quarterback Johnny Manziel (hamstring), center Ryan Seymour (hamstring), defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) and defensive lineman Ishmaa'ily Kitchen (knee). Seymour, who was replaced by Nick McDonald, went down in the first quarter, Manziel and Rubin were hurt in the second and Kitchen left in the fourth. None of the four returned.
-- Winn's interception was the Browns' 21st of the season, giving the team its highest total since it had 23 in 2008. Cleveland's intercepted at least one pass in 11 straight games.
-- Cameron's catch was not only the Browns' longest play of the season, but also the longest catch by an NFL tight end this season.
-- Karlos Dansby certainly made the most of his first start since Nov. 16. The veteran linebacker led the Browns with 12 tackles after missing the previous four games with a knee injury.