An important game starts in a strange way as the Saints look to surprise the Browns with an onsides kick. After appearing to recover, a conference of officials reveals that the kick was touched too early and the Saints kick again. This time, Andre Davis runs it up to the thirty and the game starts in earnest.
The Browns attack through the air on their first couple of plays, but successful muggings of Quincy Morgan and William Green on successive downs puts Couch and company into a 3rd and 13. Under intense pressure, Couch sails one into the hands of a waiting Dale Carter, and the game begins grimly for the Browns.
Even with McAllister not starting, the Browns yield big yards quickly to the Saints. Brooks is under little pressure and can wait for a reciever to come open or throw the ball away at leisure. After a long pass early, the Browns secondary steps up, forcing a pass to be thrown away. Brant Boyer then slams Jerome Pathon on a crossing pattern that the ex-Colt won't forget for a while. The Saints are stopped cold and forced to kick a field goal.
Saints 3, Browns 0
As the Browns get the ball back after the kickoff, it's clear that the Saints defense is dominating early. A strong pass rush blows up a gimmick play, as KJ running a reverse almost passes the ball into the waiting hands of a linebacker. Another Couch pass is broken up as well and the Browns are three-and-out. Not a good start.
The Saints go three-and-out themselves as Earl Little misses a gimme interception and the Browns are unable to grab a fumbled ball. Mark Word, a defense lineman who can actually rush the passer, gets to Brooks, and the Browns get the ball back on a punt.
Following the punt, the Browns get themselves into a 3rd-and-4 situation, and Couch is sacked on third down. An offsides call, however, gives the Browns a first down and new life.
Couch throws long to a wide-open Quincy Morgan running an out pattern and the Browns are suddenly in Saints territory at the 33 yard line. The Saints aggressiveness is now getting the better of them, as an encroachment call keeps the Browns moving. The Browns continue to run Green despite mixed success early, and the Saints - porous against the run so far this year - seem to be focusing on stopping it. This leads to another 3rd and four. For the third time, though, the Saints jump offsides and give the Browns a second first down on a penalty.
Next week, there will be decaf in the Saints locker room.
Suddenly a hand-off explodes into a big play as Green pops free! Stopped in the center of the line, Green runs left and gets around the corner for fifteen yards to the one-yard line. Green steps out of bounds before getting to the end zone. Wow! Now we're seeing the William Green that had the Browns smiling on draft day.
First and goal. Couch starts with a play-action and a roll-out. He attempts to force it to Darnell Sanders and it's broken up. Green goes up the gut on second down, and now we have a third and goal. But the third time is the charm as Green goes behind O'Hara to plow four yards deep into the end zone. The Browns have capitalized on Saints mistakes.
Browns 7, Saints 3
As the Saints get the ball back, penalties continue to effect the flow of the game. A facemask by the Browns, a false start by the Saints. But David Sloan snares a pass to give the Saints momentum to the Browns 42. With McAllister out, the Saints are challenged to run effectively, as the Browns have bottled up Curtis Keaton to this point. Aaron Brooks has a lot of time so far when passing, and completes a strike to Joe Horn down to the 25 of the Browns. But after a completion to Boo Williams, the Browns front four begins to ignore the running game, mounts a pass rush and gets to Brooks. The shootout continues.
After a short run by Keaton, Brooks is pressured again, this time by Courtney Brown. With everyone covered, Brooks is forced to throw it away. The Saints are forced to kick a field goal as the Browns bend, but don't bust. Or something. I hate cliches, but they're sooooo easy to use.
Browns 7, Saints 6
The Browns throw long and stretch the defense on their first play from scrimmage. KJ can't catch up with it, but William Green busts loose for 25 yards on the subsequent run up the middle. Bang. The Saints must respect the run, which opens up the play acction for real. I love the guy, but Jamel White, meet Wally Pipp. Unfortunately, the Browns misfire on subsequent series of downs and Gardocki is forced to punt from just shy of mid-field. The Saints are back on their fifteen after a fair catch.
The Saints are still having a hard time running the ball, but when Brooks has enough time to pass he moves the chains anyway. Brooks takes the Saints to two first downs through the air. What's nice to see, though, is Orpheus Roye getting pressure on two straight plays. On the first, Brooks fires before taking a shot. On the second, Brooks has to throw it away. After those two pressures, Brooks has plenty of time on the third pass play to fire a strike, and Michael Lewis burns the Browns for 41 yards.
On that play, Mark Word was trying to cover the speedy Saint, and the result was inevitable with little rush on Brooks.
But quickly, the tables turn. Brooks then loses the handle on the ball while rolling out inside the 20 and trying to throw the ball over a charging Courtney Brown. The Browns pounce, number 92 again, on the fumble for a key turnover with the Saints driving for the lead. A break! The subsequent challenge is rejected in record time, giving the Browns the ball on their own 15.
After two runs by Green, Northcutt turns loose on turf and Couch finds him across the middle. First down. Short pass to Mark Campbell. Incompletion. No one picks up Jay Bellamy on a blitz and Couch walks off yelling at his recievers as the punt team comes on.
But then the Browns get another break! Michael Lewis fumbles the punt from Gardocki and Andra Davis pounces on it, giving the Browns on the ball on the Saints 36. Couch again goes long to Morgan, but it's broken up by Tim Irvin.
On the next play, though, the Browns innovate: Arians calls a draw play to wide reciever Dennis Northcutt, who streaks 36 yards for a touchdown, getting a nice blocks by Frisman Jackson and Andre Davis along the way. The Browns are in charge!
Browns 14, Saints 6
Michael Lewis makes up for his miscue, though, on the next series. The fleet WR flies 70 yards with a completion to the Browns 16. Robert Griffith saves the touchdown by taking an angle to the speedy wideout, and cuts him down before he can get into the end zone.
With the Saints trying to get close, the Browns tip a couple of passes and again hold the Saints out of the end zone. But on Carney's field goal, Kenard Lang pushes forward the defender ahead of him, and gets called on it. The questionable call gives the Saints a first down inside the 10 as Haslett elects to take the three points down off the board. Courtney Brown comes after Aaron Brooks and forces him to throw the ball away as the two minute warning hits.
As replays show the Browns got a raw deal on the penalty, Courtney Brown pursues Curtis Keaton on a wide run to the right keeping him out of the end zone.
Then, another break. Aaron Brooks is forced to run under pressure, makes a bad decision, and throws an interception to Anthony Henry. The 2001 ball hawk's first pick of the year!! Jim Haslett pays the price for pulling three points off the board. Remember this, all armchair coaches.
The Browns now have the ball on the one with 1:45 left to go. Trapped with their backs to the wall, the team safely pushes forward on quarterback sneaks and lets the clock tick down to halftime. At the half, it's Cleveland 14, New Orleans 6.
The Saints look conservative as they come out after getting the second-half kickoff. Clearly, Haslett is trying to slow things down a bit, reduce turnovers, and let the Saints' talent win the day. With Brooks first two passes being less than five yards in the air, the Saints look like they want to take it slow and easy. On their second series of downs, though, Devin Bush breaks up a third down pass, forcing the Saints to punt. Haslett breaks out of his brief flirtation with conservative play-calling with a fake punt. The ball is short-snapped to Fred McAfee, who runs through an Andra Davis tackle for a first down.
Despite the gimmick, the Saints continue to take it slow. The fake punt is immediately followed up by a run up the middle. Now, Brooks drops deep and tosses it for 20 yards to Jerome Pathon on the Browns 35. Slowly but surely, the Saints start building a little momentum.
Another short pass to Pathon. A handoff to Keaton finally works for the Saints as the quick little back jitterbugs to the 17. Nice run. Fenderson then runs off-tackle and gets a big hole, cruising into the end zone. Key is a collision between Griffith and Lang around the ten yard line which allows the Saints running back to break free. Griffith makes up for the miscue by knocking the ball away on the following two-point conversion attempt. Browns 14, Saints 12
For the third time, the Browns go long on their first play of a drive. This time Couch underthrows a wide-open Dennis Northcutt. Northcutt comes back to the ball, takes a vicious shot by Bellamy, but hangs on at the Saints 39. Wow!
A short run by Green, but on the next play he pops outside to the right again and shoots nine yards for a first down. We're really seeing Green's speed now and it's making the offense click. The value of Green is seen on the next play as the defense bites on a fake which is then handed off to Northcutt going around end. Unfortunately, for the Browns, offsetting penalties negate the play and we play first down over again.
The massive Grady Jackson manages to grab Green on the first and ten from the Saints 29, stopping him in the backfield. The Browns then change it up, dumping the ball off on a little screen to James Jackson which gets six yards. Couch then gets plenty of time waiting in the pocket from the shotgun. KJ gets it crossing the field at the 21, and then scampers into the end zone for a touchdown!
Browns 21, Saints 12
The Saints get the ball back after the kickoff and strike back. Aaron Brooks breaks free outside the pocket for the first time in the day, running for a first down. He follows it up by immediately tossing the ball down to the 47 into the arms of Jerome Pathon. Daylon McCutcheon stops the momentum by breaking up a pass, but hurts himself in the process. Boo Williams is hurt on the next play as Griffith hog-ties Fenderson after a blitz. Isn't artificial turf great?!?
After the injury timeout, Joe Horn gets the strike from Brooks on a hook route. Again, Griffith makes the tackle to save a possible score. Pressure on the next play again forces Brooks to throw out of trouble getting only a yard. Donte Stallworth gets the next pass, set up against Earl Little. The responsibility for the completion really belongs to Anthony Henry, who bit hard on Brooks' pump fake. The Saints continue to move.
But the Browns defense toughens again as the Saints push towards as score! A short run and a broken-up pass gets Brooks and the Saints into a third-and-long. Rushing three, the secondary covers well and Brooks, finally pressured into rolling out, throws an end zone pick to Earl Little. Another key turnover! The Browns get the ball back as the third quarter ends.
This is the Browns day. William Green blasts a linebacker onto his backside and with a defender holding onto his leg, Couch tosses for a first down to Darnell Sanders. A lot of young talent coming together on that play.
A short run to green and a handoff to Northcutt goes nowhere. On third-and-long, Couch gets good protection and throws long to Dennis Northcutt... but the pass is broken up, picked off, and returned to the Browns 40.
A short pass and a broken up play to Joe Horn gets the Saints into a third-and-four. A handoff comes up about a yard-and-a-half short and Haslett bails out to kick the field goal. Carney gets it over the cross-bar from 49 yards out to make it a closer game.
Browns 21, Saints 15
As the Browns get the ball back, the team's seemingly futile quest for a running game is clearly over. William Green squirts around end for 18 quick yards, and the Saints are back on their heels. A misdirection play, and Green grabs another six yards. As Green nears 100 on the day, the network announces that the Steelers are losing to the hapless Bengals. Suddenly, the notion of a playoff run doesn't seem so absurd.
Green exits, and the Browns catch the Saints looking pass on a quick draw play. The Browns are now in Saints territory and the clock is ticking down under seven minutes.
Steve Heiden grabs a high throw by Couch, and the Browns get another first down with less than six minutes left. James Jackson almost destroys things with a fumble on a sweep, but Ross Verba covers the pigskin to keep the Browns in control. Couch is falling backwards two plays later and heaves the ball up in the air, but Dennis Northcutt snares it (taking another shot) on the Saints 19. It is our day.
Now, with the ball in field goal range and under five minutes left, the Browns can bleed the clock. The clock ticks under four minutes and Green takes it on the second straight run to the fifteen. William Green, now over 100 yards on the day, takes the ball down to the eleven and Phil Dawson comes in. The Saints use their second timeout to stop the clock at 3:29. Dawson drills the short field goal to put the Browns in clear control.
Browns 24, Saints 15
The Saints go into the hurry-up offense as the clock goes under three minutes. Brooks has time but finds no one open. He tosses it out of bounds. 2:48. Courtney Brown puts pressure on Brooks again, and Anthony Henry snares it out of mid-air by cutting in front of Joe Horn. A very nice break on the ball by Henry and the Browns have it back with 2:30 remaining!
Now the Browns can run Green again and again. The Saints have the two-minute warning, one timeout, and hopes of victory which have faded to nothingness. The Saints final timeout comes with 2:25 left and the Browns in control. Green doesn't get much on his carries, but it hardly matters as the clock heads towards the two-minute warning. The partying which started on Friday for the Browns Backers in New Orleans will continue after the game, making a memorable weekend even more so. What a great time that must have been!
The Browns let the clock tick down to 55 seconds before Gardocki has to punt. The Saints get the ball on the 21. An incomplete pass into the middle of the field. 45 seconds. Brooks throws it to Fenderson in the middle of the field. Clock keeps ticking. He does it again, but Fenderson fumbles and Lewis Sanders picks it up.
It is the Saints final turnover of the game, their sixth, and the Browns walk out of the Superdome winners. With the Steelers edging the ridiculous Bengals, the Browns remain a half-game back. But this game marks, perhaps, a turning point.
FINAL SCORE: Browns 24, Saints 15!!