With Doug Pederson alternating at quarterback with the surprise tandem of Kevin Johnson and Dennis Northcutt, the Browns scored more points, gained more yards and picked up more first downs than they had in their last three games combined.
Unfortunately for the Browns, Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles spoiled the effort with a brilliant offensive performance of their own, allowing them to escape with a 35-24 victory that clinched the team's first playoff berth in five years.
McNabb frustrated the Browns' defense, completing 23-of-36 passes for a career-high 390 yards and four touchdown passes.
Even in losing the hard-fought effort helped the Browns (3-12) re-establish a sense of pride in the final weeks of a bleak season.
"Our guys came out and played hard," said Browns coach Chris Palmer. "I take my hat off to them. They gave it all they had. I am proud of how hard they played and I think it was an exciting game for the fans. Offensively, we were able to move the ball well against one of the better defenses in the league.
The Browns caught the Eagles (10-5) off guard with formations that included Johnson and Northcutt occasionally abandoning their usual wide-receiver position to line up at quarterback. The result was an offense that rolled up 418 total yards and 25 first downs.
When Northcutt called the signals he was used purely as a running threat. Weaving through the line out of a formation similar to the old wing-T, Northcutt rushed for 37 yards on seven carries.
Johnson, who has been a deep threat as a receiver in his first two NFL seasons, was a threat to throw deep when he was in the game. On the Browns' first series, Johnson heaved a bomb to David Patten down the right sideline. The ball was broken up inside the Eagles' 10-yard line, but the creativity displayed by the normally uninspired offense brought the fans to their feet.
"I heard the standing ovation," said Johnson, who caught six passes for 76 yards in addition to completing 1-of-3 passes for 23 yards. "I'm happy that the crowd welcomed what we were trying to do. This was not (an offense) that you'll see a steady diet of, but it changed the game up and gave us something to help us try to move the ball effectively."
The change of pace with Northcutt and Johnson kept the Eagles' defense on their heals, opening up the short passing game for Pederson, who reclaimed his role as the starting quarterback when rookie Spergon Wynn was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.
Pederson had his best game as a Brown, completing 29-of-40 passes for 309 yards. His lone touchdown pass _ a 9-yard toss to Patten with 14:20 left in the second quarter _ ended a streak of 99 unanswered points scored by Browns' opponents over the last three weeks.
After Patten's touchdown catch tied the game at 7, the Browns were given another rare scoring opportunity when rookie Lamar Chapman recovered a fumble by Eagles return man Brian Mitchell at the Philadelphia 37-yard line on the ensuing kickoff.
Eight plays later, Travis Prentice scored the first of his two 1-yard touchdown runs, giving the Browns a 14-7 lead with 10:13 left in the first half.
The Browns' defense, which had played well most of the season with little support from the offense, couldn't take advantage of the rare offensive output. McNabb shredded the pass defense, leading the Eagles to touchdowns on five of their first seven possessions.
"Donovan obviously had a great game," said Eagles coach Andy Reid. "He was on right from the beginning. There has been a lot of talk about him being most valuable player and today I have a hard time believing that there is anybody better. When the pressure is on, he is even that much better than he usually is."
After watching the Browns jump ahead 14-7, McNabb quickly marched the Eagles 66 yards on four plays, tying the game at 14 on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Torrance Small with 8:13 left in the second quarter.
Seven minutes later, McNabb and Small hooked up again on an 8-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles a 21-14 halftime advantage.
McNabb tossed touchdown passes of 11 and 38 yards in the third quarter to give push the Eagles' lead to 35-14. The 38-yarder to Johnson capped the team's second 98-yard drive of the game. On the Eagles' first possession of the day, McNabb completed 5-of-6 passes, including four to tight end Chad Lewis (5 catches, 100 yards), on a 98-yard drive that ended with Darnell Autry's 3-yard touchdown run with 3:02 left in the first quarter.