Montario Hardesty, filling in for injured rookie Trent Richardson, scored on a 1-yard plunge and cornerback Sheldon Brown intercepted Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Browns outscored the Bengals (3-3) in the second half 27-10.
It was the first win in nine tries against an AFC North opponent for second-year Browns coach Pat Shurmur. The victory also closed Randy Lerner's tenure as Cleveland's majority owner on a positive note. His sale to Jimmy Haslam III for $1 billion is expected to be approved by the league Tuesday.
Although they've been competitive, the Browns hadn't been able to put together a complete game under Shurmur. There were still some major flaws, but one of the NFL's youngest teams did some growing up and took some of the pressure off Shurmur, who needed a win to impress Haslam, the truck-stop magnate and a former minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When Brown stepped in front of Brandon Tate and ran back the pick, Browns Stadium rocked as it hadn't in several years.
As the final seconds ticked off, Shurmur didn't show much emotion as he headed across the field to shake hands with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. But it had to be an enormous relief to Shurmur.
Hardesty, whose two seasons with Cleveland have been plagued by injuries, gave the Browns a huge lift after Richardson went down in the second half with an injured side.
Hardesty's 1-yard TD dive on the first play of the fourth quarter gave the Browns, who trailed 14-7 at halftime, their first lead at 20-14. Hardesty, who had not touched the ball all season entering the game, went over the top of the pile and twisted his way across the goal line for his first career TD.
The Bengals closed within 20-17 on Nugent's 44-yard field goal with 11:11 remaining.
But Weeden, who finished 17 of 29 for 231 yards, drove the Browns down the field and threw a 3-yard TD pass to tight end Benjamin Watson with 8 minutes left.
Brown then picked off a pass from Dalton, giving the Browns a 34-17 lead. The Bengals weren't done as Dalton threw a 57-yard TD pass to A.J. Green with 5:21 left. Cincinnati was driving for another score when Dalton was sacked and stripped by Emmanuel Stephens. Browns rookie Billy Winn recovered the fumble and carried it safely to the other side of mid-field as Browns fans could finally celebrate the first win in nearly a year.
Dalton finished 31 of 46 for 381 yards with three TDs two to Green and three interceptions.
One of the picks was by Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who returned after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancers.
Phil Dawson kicked two field goals for Cleveland.
Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 34
Cincinnati 7 7 0 10 24
Cleveland 0 7 6 21 34
Cin • Gresham 55 pass from Dalton (Nugent kick), 7:07.
Cle • Gordon 71 pass from Weeden (Dawson kick), 14:51.
Cin • Green 4 pass from Dalton (Nugent kick), 1:54.
Cle • FG Dawson 41, 8:25.
Cle • FG Dawson 38, 6:27.
Cle • Hardesty 1 run (Dawson kick), 14:56.
Cin • FG Nugent 44, 11:11.
Cle • Watson 3 pass from Weeden (Dawson kick), 8:00.
Cle • Brown 19 interception return (Dawson kick), 7:50.
Cin • Green 57 pass from Dalton (Nugent kick), 5:21.
Attendance • 67,060.
First downs 20 16
Total Net Yards 438 328
Rushes-yards 20-76 34-110
Passing 362 218
Punt Returns 4-58 2-60
Kickoff Returns 4-80 2-63
Interceptions Ret. 1-3 3-33
Comp-Att-Int 31-46-3 17-29-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-19 2-13
Punts 7-50.6 8-44.3
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 7-50 5-35
Time of Possession 30:03 29:57
Rushing • Cincinnati, Green-Ellis 16-62, Peerman 1-7, Dalton 2-5, Hawkins 1-2. Cleveland, Hardesty 15-56, Richardson 14-37, Cribbs 1-8, Ogbonnaya 1-6, Weeden 3-3.
Passing • Cincinnati, Dalton 31-46-3-381. Cleveland, Weeden 17-29-1-231.
Receiving • Cincinnati, Peerman 8-76, Green 7-135, Hawkins 5-35, Gresham 3-68, M.Jones 2-21, Binns 2-12, Charles 1-12, Tate 1-11, Green-Ellis 1-8, Leonard 1-3. Cleveland, Gordon 3-99, Little 3-18, Cooper 2-39, Cameron 2-38, Richardson 2-17, Watson 2-6, Ogbonnaya 2-5, Hardesty 1-9.
Missed Field Goals • None.