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Rapid Reactions: Browns ride run game to 26-24 win

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CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are going to have plenty of questions to answer about their run defense after the Browns kept control of the game the old-fashioned way in the opener, on their way to a 26-24 win.

Even though they got a dramatic 58-yard field goal from Cade York to win it with eight seconds left in the game, it was the way they ran that made the difference.

The Browns rushed for 217 yards, with Nick Chubb leading the way with 141, as the Browns were able to keep quarterback Jacoby Brissett out of much danger, and reduced the need for him to make plays in the passing game.

The Panthers were ninth in the league in yards per carry last year (4.1 per attempt), but 18th in yards per game (113.8 per game), after a couple of teams found out they could go heavy and run. The Panthers adapted their personnel, but the Browns are better able to run than most teams.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow mentioned last week that if you hold an opponent to 4.0 yards per carry, you're doing a good job, but the Browns averaged 5.6 yards per rush Sunday.

Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis missed some time late with cramps, underscoring the fact they lack experience at the position behind him and starter Derrick Brown.

— Say this for new Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield, he knows how to keep things entertaining.

After a listless first half, and a start to the second, which created some concern, he brought the Panthers back to take the lead late.

Nothing about it was easy.

The Panthers trailed 20-7 midway through the third quarter, before Mayfield brought a stagnant offense to life.

Mayfield scrambled for a touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, and hit Robbie Anderson for a 75-yard touchdown pass to get to within two points.

He also spread it around quickly late, getting the Panthers into position for Eddy Piñeiro's 34-yard field goal which could have been the final margin.

Mayfield finished 16-of-27 passing for 235 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

— The Panthers are trying to walk a fine line with running back Christian McCaffrey's usage.

In the first half, he touched the ball just five times, for a total of 11 yards. He was there to dive over the pile for a touchdown in the second quarter, but it was a quiet half for the Panthers in general offensively.

They managed just 21 yards on their first 20 offensive plays, before a quick-strike touchdown drive late in the first half.

A 16-yard pass to DJ Moore and a 50-yarder to tight end Ian Thomas provided the first spark of the day.

When McCaffrey was a little more involved in the second half, there was more flair, as he helped set up Mayfield's touchdown scramble, which cut the Browns lead to 20-14.

McCaffrey finished with 10 carries for 33 yards and four catches for 24 yards.

He had 59 touches in the first two games last year, and they're trying to keep it from going to that extreme. He's their best offensive player, and one of the best in the league, so using him helps. Finding the appropriate balance will be the key.

— The Browns benefitted from a pair of penalties on the Panthers defense to put 10 points on the board in the first half.

A Xavier Woods interception was wiped out when CJ Henderson was called for a pretty blatant pass interference penalty. Woods was called for an illegal low block later in the half, setting up a field goal.

With the offense taking its time to get started, it was the kind of margin of error the Panthers couldn't afford.

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