CINCINNATI — A.J. Green's first catch to beat the Browns was easy. His latest one was amazing.

The rookie receiver went over the middle, made a leaping catch over Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden, then kept going for a 51-yard reception in the final minute that set up the Cincinnati Bengals' 23-20 victory on Sunday, keeping them in the thick of playoff contention.

For Green, the game-changing play was as simple as going up for a rebound.

"I did play basketball when I was younger," the first-round pick said. "It's like rebounding. A lot of it is just timing and going up strong."

Green caught the ball at the 30-yard line and was run out of bounds at the 2. The Bengals (7-4) settled for Mike Nugent's 26-yard field goal with 38 seconds left, giving them their first lead of the game.

It was a flashback to the season opener in Cleveland, when the Bengals caught the Browns (4-7) coming out of the huddle slowly and second-string quarterback Bruce Gradkowski — filling in for an injured Andy Dalton — ran a quick-snap play. Green was uncovered for a 41-yard touchdown catch that decided that game.

The surprising Bengals stayed right behind Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North with their latest comeback, this one forged by their rookie big-play combination.

"It was an amazing catch that won the game for them," Browns quarterback Colt McCoy said.

The Browns blitzed on third-and-8, and Dalton threw it down the middle just before he got hit. Green adjusted and leaped high above Haden to get the ball.

"That's why he was the fourth pick in the draft," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's the best first-round draft pick I've ever been around. He continues to amaze me. He's a phenomenal athlete."

The Browns came away feeling they'd beaten themselves again.

In addition to the quick-snap fiasco in the season opener, they lost a game two weeks ago because of a botched snap on a field goal attempt. St. Louis held on for a 13-12 win in Cleveland when a bad snap caused Phil Dawson to miss a 22-yard try with 2:13 left.

On Sunday, Dawson had already kicked one from 54 yards — his longest of the season — and felt comfortable when he lined up for a 55-yarder with 1:51 to play. The snapped skipped across the turf and Dawson never had a chance. His kick wasn't even close.

"It was a very bad snap," long snapper Ryan Pontbriand said. "I'm in a pretty tough slump right now."

The Browns were fuming as they headed back to the north end of Ohio.

"It's heartbreaking, it's frustrating, it's tough," safety Mike Adams said.

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 the Bengals make a little history.

For the third time this season, they trailed by at least 10 points at halftime but rallied to win. That matches the league record for a season shared by the 1980 Chiefs, 1984 Patriots, 1986 Colts and 2011 Lions.

Green was on the sideline with a bruised right knee for the finish of Cincinnati's last two games, when the Bengals threatened late but couldn't make a decisive play during losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore that dropped them to third place in the AFC North. With Green back, they had what they needed.

"I like my chances with A.J.," said Dalton, who was 21 of 31 for 270 yards with a touchdown. "You just put it around him and he makes plays. He's a special player."

Notes: Peyton Hillis, who missed the past six games with a strained left hamstring, returned and carried 19 times for 65 yards. ... McCoy was 16 of 34 for 151 yards with a pair of touchdowns. His 24-yard pass to Jordan Norwood capped Cleveland's opening drive and gave the Browns their first TD touchdown in the first quarter all season. They'd managed a total of nine points in the opening quarter until then. ... LB Scott Fujita likely broke his right hand but expects to keep playing. The Browns also had injuries to DL Emmanuel Stephens (strained chest muscles) and second-string LB Kaluka Maiava (knee). ... Green's third 100-yard game tied the club rookie record, shared by Isaac Curtis (1973) and Eddie Brown (1985). ... The Bengals lead the intrastate series 41-36.