More often than not, football games are won or lost in the fourth quarter. And in the long run, that was probably the case Sunday afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Had Braylon Edwards not let a perfect pass from Charlie Frye bounce off his hands with about 90 seconds to go, the Browns might very well have rallied for a come-from-behind victory. But when the ball was intercepted, the Saints went marching out with a 19-14 victory in the regular-season opener for both teams.
But it was another pass Frye to Edwards pass, this one for an apparent 75 yard touchdown on the Browns' first offensive play of the day, that might very well have had just as much an affect on the outcome as did the ball that Edwards missed.
The first-quarter touchdown was wiped out by a holding call on tackle Kevin Shaffer and seemed to set the offensive tempo for the entire first half.
For the next two quarters, the offense was non-existent. The running game was pitiful, the passing attack even worse.
The fact the Browns didn't get a first down until the 2:26 mark of the first half tells you all you need to know.
Nonetheless, the Saints were only up 9-0 at halftime, thanks to the bend-but-don't-break defense that allowed the Saints to march up and down the field but somehow managed to keep them out of the end zone.
Defensively, the Saints came out with the philosophy of stopping the Browns' running game on first down. When they did force them into second-or-third-and-long situations, which was the case more often than not, the Saints capitalized by putting heavy pressure on Frye throughout the first half.
In the second half, Frye was again the subject of intense pressure, but somehow he managed to dip and dart for several long runs that helped set up fruitful drives.
But the bottom line is you don't want to have to rely upon your quarterback to be your most effective runner to put together an effective offense. Reuben Droughns was pretty much a non-factor, as were his young backups.
About the only real positive on offense for the game was the dazzling play of Kellen Winslow Jr., the self-proclaimed best tight end in the National Football League. After Sunday's game, there's little doubt that when healthy, Winslow still has the ability to be a difference-maker.
In the first half he was pretty much limited to the same short flat passes we saw him catch throughout the preseason. But in the second half the Winslow was split out wide a lot more often and he became a factor down field.
He caught one touchdown pass, thanks to the use of a Jim Brown-like stiff arm, to get the Browns on the board. He then almost made an Ozzie Newsome-like one-handed grab in the end zone, only to have the ball bounce free as he hit the ground while being interfered with. That play helped set up the second and final score.
Winslow was obviously elated to score his first NFL touchdown, a just reward for all of the hard work he has put in rehabilitating from the broken leg suffered his rookie season and the various injuries incurred in his highly-publicized motorcycle accident.
"It felt great after all the hard work and all the hardships I have gone through to get in the end zone," he said in the somber Browns' locker room.
It certainly would have felt a lot better had the team played better and won.
"We just didn't execute," he said. "We didn't make the plays when we had to. I really think the first play described the whole game. You can't have that (penalty) and expect to win. We dug a big hole and dint; make the plays at the end to allow us to come back and win."
Winslow is one HUGE reason why I am not overly disappointed with the loss. For the first time since the team returned in 1999, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
But until the offensive line gets some time together, starts communicating better and begins to play on the same page, they will never have an opportunity to live up to their potential.
The offensive line woes have been haunting this team ever since the Browns returned to action in '99.
No one can say general manager Phil Savage didn't try to bolster the line this past off-season. The signing of highly-touted free agent LeCharles Bentley combined with last year's additions of Cosey Coleman and Joe Andruzzi should have plugged the holes.
I'm convinced that Hank Fraley will eventually be an adequate replacement for Bentley, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
Defensively, the Browns didn't do quite as good a job against the run as I thought they should. The Saints chose to run right at big Ted Washington a lot of times, which might have come as a bit of a surprise to some people.
But a well-respected defensive coordinator told me a long time ago that the best way to attack a dominating defensive lineman is to hit him straight on. That's what the Saints did, with a goodly amount of success. The fact they rushed for 150 yards took a lot of pressure off quarterback Drew Brees, who looked very ordinary most of the day.
Hopefully, Sunday's game will serve as a good tune up for next Sunday's battle with downstate rival Cincinnati, which will have a real quarterback at the helm in one Carson Palmer, who is quickly developing into the best signal-caller in the NFL.