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Bengals top Browns, 23-20

Cincinnati Bengals safety Reggie Nelson (20) is congratulated

Cincinnati Bengals safety Reggie Nelson (20) is congratulated on his interception by cornerback Adam Jones (24) and linebacker Thomas Howard (53) during the second half. (Nov. 27, 2011) Credit: AP

CINCINNATI - A.J. Green did it to the Browns again.

The rookie receiver made a leaping catch for a 51-yard gain in the final minute Sunday, setting up a field goal that rallied the Cincinnati Bengals to a 23-20 victory over self-destructive Cleveland.

The surprising Bengals (7-4) stayed right behind Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North with another second-half comeback forged by their rookie big-play combination.

Andy Dalton threw a high down-the-middle pass that Green went way above the defenders to grab. Green was run out of bounds at the 2, and the Browns (4-7) forced Cincinnati to settle for Mike Nugent's 26-yard field goal with 38 seconds left -- the Bengals' first lead of the game.

Cincinnati's turnaround season started in Cleveland, where the Browns failed to line up promptly and were surprised by a quick snap that led to Green's uncontested 41-yard touchdown catch.

That one was easy. This one was amazing.

Green, who sat out a loss at Baltimore last Sunday with a bruised right knee, set up the winning kick with his catch-and-run. The first-round draft pick had three catches for 110 yards. The Browns and Steelers had been the only teams in the NFL that hadn't allowed a 100-yard receiving game.

For the second time in three games, a botched snap cost Cleveland an opportunity to take a late lead. Phil Dawson was short on a 55-yard try with 1:51 left after the snap skipped along the ground, giving Cincinnati its last chance.

It was a familiar outcome for the intrastate rivalry -- Cincinnati has won 12 of the past 15 games and six of seven at Paul Brown Stadium. Only 48,260 showed up at the 65,500-seat stadium to see a game decided by a bad snap and a great catch.

Cleveland was buoyed by the return of running back Peyton Hillis, who missed the past six games with a strained left hamstring. He carried 19 times for 65 yards, helping the Browns put together long drives.

The Browns scored 20 points for only the second time this season and were in position to take the late lead when the bad snap resulted in Dawson's short kick. He'd already connected from 32 and 54 yards, his longest field goal of the season.

It was a stunning gaffe. The Browns had a chance to take the late lead two games ago against St. Louis, but a bad snap scuttled Dawson's 22-yard field goal with 2:13 left and sent Cleveland to a 13-12 loss.

Dalton had the challenge of bringing the Bengals back in the second half against an AFC North opponent for the third week in a row. They came up just short against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but remained in the thick of the playoff competition by pulling one out against Cleveland.

Down 20-10 late in the third quarter on Sunday, Dalton helped the Bengals get the rematch. He was 21 of 31 for 270 yards and his 16th touchdown pass of the season, topping Greg Cook for the Bengals rookie record. Cedric Benson carried 21 times for 106 yards, his second 100-yard game against the Browns.

Colt McCoy was 16 of 34 for 151 yards with a pair of touchdowns. His fourth-down pass was knocked away at midfield with 10 seconds to go, sealing Cincinnati's win.

McCoy's 24-yard pass to Jordan Norwood capped Cleveland's opening drive and gave the Browns their first touchdown in the first quarter all season. They'd managed a total of nine points in the opening quarter until then.

McCoy's touchdown pass to Greg Little made it 17-7 at halftime, more points than the Browns had scored in any of their past five games. Little dropped numerous passes, including one on Cleveland's last possession.

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