The Cleveland Browns have the signature win of the Eric Mangini era, a 30-17 thrashing of Super Bowl champion New Orleans on Sunday.
The Browns beat a quality opponent by playing well from start to finish, and by receiving significant contributions from special teams.
The Browns played hard, they played smart. They had an excellent plan and they carried it out. In short, they played the perfect Mangini-style game.
The Browns won the quirkiest of quirky games because they had some excellent special teams play and because they scored twice on defense, with David Bowens returning two picks for touchdowns.
"You don't dream a game like that," Bowens said.
But as refreshing as the win was for the team and the Browns' long-suffering fans, and as much as it changes the tone of a season heading into a bye, it does not rescue the year. The Browns remain a 2-5 team stuck in last place in the AFC Central -- although any win for this team and this city is a good win.
•Linebacker David Bowens had the game of his career, intercepting two Drew Brees passes and returning them for touchdowns.
Bowens became the first Browns player to return two INTs for scores in the same game since Bobby Franklin did it in 1960 against Chicago.
Bowens had played sparingly this season, and he looks much older than his 33 years with flecks of gray in his hair and beard. But he used his guile to draw Brees into both interceptions. The first he dropped off a rush and was in the right place at the right time, then was able to athletically grab a ball that bounced off him and a New Orleans player before it hit the ground. On the second he read Brees' eyes perfectly.
"They say I got snow on the roof, but there's fire in the chimney," Bowens said.
•Linebacker Scott Fujita probably deserves a huge assist in the win. Fujita played for New Orleans before joining the Browns as a free agent, and he knew the Saints well.
He shared any and all information he had with the coaching staff last week, to the point of helping draw up a game plan to stop Drew Brees.
The plan was to try to confuse Brees with different looks, and to disguise the looks until the last possible second. It worked to perfection. Even though Brees threw for 356 yards, he was intercepted four times.
"Planning it and X's and O's is one thing," Fujita said. "To come out and execute it the way we did, that was pretty impressive."
Fujita's knowledge showed in his numbers: 11 tackles, a sack and an interception.
Rarely is a free agent signing directly responsible for a win in this kind of way, but Fujita was a gigantic help to his team Sunday.
REPORT CARD vs. SAINTS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The starting quarterback threw for 74 yards, which won't win a lot of games. But the Browns didn't exactly need a lot from their passing game given the way the rest of the team played. A 74-yard effort from the starting quarterback is not impressive, but a 12-yard catch by the quarterback is. The Brown did exactly what they needed to do to win this game.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Peyton Hillis again was most effective when he was most needed -- in the fourth quarter after the Saints had cut the Browns' lead to 10. Hillis ran for 38 yards on a 50-yard drive that ended in a Phil Dawson field goal. The Browns didn't exactly set records running the ball, but they were effective when necessary.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Drew Brees threw four interceptions for the second time in his career. The Browns defense had him mumbling after the game that he does not have games like that. Well, he did. And Rob Ryan's approach had much to do with it. The Browns used a lot of different looks and fronts, and that seemed to confuse Brees. They also took away most of his down-the-field throws and forced Brees to rely on underneath stuff. He racked up yards, but threw four interceptions, the most the Browns have had in a game since 2001. It would be tough to find a better plan.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- The Saints have trouble running the ball, and the Browns made sure the troubles continued. New Orleans ran for just 58 yards on 18 carries, and never really posed a consistent threat with the running game. A large factor in the Saints' approach was the fact that Cleveland got ahead early, which forced New Orleans to rely on Drew Brees. But when the Saints did try to run, they did little. Their longest run of the day was eight yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-plus -- Eric Mangini's special teams units have been strong since he arrived, but they were never stronger than in this win. Brad Seely's group provided two momentum-changing plays with a throwback punt return from Josh Cribbs to Eric Wright and a fake-punt rumble by Reggie Hodges. The two plays accounted for 130 yards, 13 fewer than the Browns' leading passer and rusher had combined. Rarely do special teams contribute as significantly as the Browns' did in this win.
COACHING: A -- Clearly this was Eric Mangini's finest hour as a coach with the Browns. Nobody can say the team they beat was playing out the end of the season or slumping, and nobody can say the Browns won despite playing poorly. They played well, had an excellent plan and deserved the victory. Mangini took chances, and they looked brilliant because they worked. His plan was outstanding, his team's play better.