CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Browns finally finished.
Peyton Hillis rumbled for 102 yards and a touchdown, Phil Dawson kicked three field goals and the Browns held on to a fourth-quarter lead, surviving a big day by Terrell Owens for their first win, 23-20 over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
The Browns (1-3) had lost their first three games by a total of 12 points, failing to finish down the stretch and frustrating coach Eric Mangini with silly, self-inflicted mistakes.
But this time, they overcame a costly penalty on rookie safety T.J. Ward, made a crucial sack of Carson Palmer in the closing minutes and withstood a 10-catch, 222-yard performance by Owens, who also moved into second place on the NFL career list in receiving yards.
The Bengals (2-2) had their eight-game winning streak in the AFC North snapped.
After taking a 23-10 lead in the third quarter on Dawson's 22-yarder, which moved him within one field goal of tying Hall of Famer Lou Groza's franchise record of 234, the Browns nearly let another lead slip away before regaining their footing in the closing minutes.
With Cincinnati driving for a possible go-ahead touchdown, Browns linebacker Matt Roth sacked Palmer and forced Bengals coach Marvin Lewis to call for a punt with roughly five minutes left.
Cleveland took over at its 11 with 4:41 remaining and ran out the clock by giving the ball to Hillis, a human battering ram who picked up 24 yards on a second-and-7 play before the two-minute warning. Quarterback Seneca Wallace, who made his third straight start in place of the injured Jake Delhomme, then took a knee three times to run out the clock.
Palmer finished 25 of 36 for 371 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-best 78-yarder in the second quarter to Owens, who was almost unstoppable as the Browns chose to double-team Chad Ochocinco.
Wallace went 18 of 30 for 184 yards and threw a 24-yard TD pass to Evan Moore.
Cincinnati's offense finally lived up to its preseason hype, but it failed to come up with the necessary conversions with the game on the line.
A personal foul against Ward helped the Bengals pull within 23-20 on Palmer's 4-yard shovel pass to Brian Leonard with 10:44 left.
On third-and-goal, Palmer's pass over the middle intended for rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley was incomplete, but Ward delivered a forearm to Shipley's head and was nailed with a penalty, giving the Bengals an automatic first down. Shipley laid dazed with a concussion and was helped off the field. He did not return.
On the next play, Palmer pitched the ball with his left hand to Leonard, who went in untouched.
The Browns went three-and-out the next time they got the ball, and Palmer marched the Bengals down the field on passes to Owens and Ochocinco, who huddled with their quarterback on the sideline several times in the second half. Cincinnati got as far as Cleveland's 37 on its last drive, but Ochocinco was called for interference on third down and Roth pulled down a scrambling Palmer from behind on the game's biggest defensive play.
Hillis, who ran for a career-high 144 yards last week at Baltimore, plowed over from the 1 to give Browns a 20-10 lead in the third. It was Hillis' fourth straight game with a TD run, the first Cleveland back to do that since Greg Pruitt did it five games in a row in 1975.
Owens scored his first TD for Cincinnati on his 17th catch for the Bengals, tying it 10-10 in the second.
On second-and-13 at Cleveland's 22, Palmer lofted a deep pass for Owens, who had a step on cornerback Sheldon Brown. When Brown tripped and fell at about the 35, all Owens had to do was haul Palmer's pass and waltz into the end zone.
Owens didn't mark the occasion with any elaborate dance. He simply placed the ball on the ground, just beyond the goal line, and did his trademark "T.O." flex in front of a bedsheet hanging in the corner that read: "T.O. and C.O. have B.O."
Owens moved past Isaac Bruce into second place on the league's career yardage list. Owens has 15,323 yards, second only to Jerry Rice's 22,895.
The Bengals got the ball right back when Leon Hall intercepted Wallace, but Mike Nugent's 44-yard field goal try was blocked by Browns linebacker Scott Fujita.
Cleveland took advantage of an unnecessary roughness call on safety Chinedum Ndukwe to set up Dawson's 31-yard field goal on the final play of the half for a 13-10 lead.
(This version CORRECTS Owens yardage total)