So many times since 1999, we have watched our beloved football team play games just like today and lose. We have watched the Cleveland Browns leave it all on the field only to come up short. Today was different and it feels so good. Brian Hoyer and the Browns offense got the ball with 2:46 left in the game, down by one and pinned back on their own four yard line. Without panic and without hurrying, Hoyer led his team down the field, converting on 3rd and 4th downs while managing the clock perfectly. He identified a breakdown in the Saint’s coverage with 13 seconds left and hit a wide open Hawkins at the 11 yard line to set up a Billy Cundiff field goal with 3 seconds left that put the Browns in front for good 26-24.
Unlike a week ago the Browns came out ready to play, forcing the Saints into a number of early three and outs. The defense looked excellent right from the start. They were able to pressure Drew Brees and keep his favorite target TE Jimmy Graham silent until late in the second quarter. During that period the Browns scored three times while holding the Saints to just 3 points. Hoyer hit Miles Austin for a touchdown pass early and Cundiff cashed in on a field goal as the Browns took a 10-0 first quarter lead.
A Saints drive early in the second quarter stalled and they settled for a Shayne Graham field goal to make it 10-3. Later in the second quarter Paul Kruger got to Brees again, this time as he was releasing the ball. Brees’ pass sailed over his receiver and Browns Safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted it and took it all the way back for a Browns touchdown. The Browns somehow botched the extra point, making the score 16-3.
Brees got into a rhythm late in the first half and found a way to get Graham involved as well. A drive at the end of the half resulted in the first Saints touchdown as Brees connected with Graham in the end zone. The score at half time was 16-10.
Early in the second half the Saints started to get their offense going as Mark Ingram began gaining yardage in chunks and Brees capped off a drive with another touchdown pass to Graham, giving the Saints the lead for the first time, 17-16. The Browns were up to the task today though and began running the ball all over the Saint’s defense. A combination of runs by Crowell and Terrence West led them down the field. West got his first career touchdown late in the third quarter taking back the lead, 23-17.
However, the Browns could not stop Jimmy Graham today, and he made a number of impact plays catching the ball on a drive early in the 4th quarter. Ingram got into the end zone at the 12:12 mark in the 4th, and the Saints took a one point lead 24-23. Today was the Browns’ day, though, and with time becoming an issue Karlos Dansby broke through on a 3rd down and sacked Brees, pushing them out of field goal range. That was all Hoyer needed and he put together as clutch of a two minute drill as you will see. Miles Austin came up huge with a sliding catch on the sidelines with 15 seconds left. After a batted down pass Hoyer lofted a pass to a wide open Hawkins and the rest is history as the Browns won on a last second field goal.
Head Coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil did a great job containing the Saints’ explosive offense early and they showed up when they had to on the biggest plays of the game. They did not have an answer for Graham, who dominated the second half, but when the Browns needed a stop to stay in the game and give their offense a chance they got to Brees and forced a punt.
The offense looked great for most of the day and the zone run scheme is paying huge dividends with the two rookie running backs combining for 30 carries and 122 yards. Brain Hoyer was 24 of 40 for 204 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly though he didn’t turn it over, and made plays when the Browns needed him most. With all the questions about wide receiver, both Austin and Hawkins had 6 catches, Hawkins leading the way in receiving with 70 yards. After two weeks he is proving to be a great pick up by Browns GM Ray Farmer.
This was the kind of win that changes a team’s trajectory. They beat one of the best teams in the NFL and looked like the better team. There were no gimmicks or tricks. The Browns just went out and beat a top tier NFL team. First Energy Stadium was electric as the Browns won a home opener for the first time in 10 years. Without Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and Barkevious Mingo the Browns played football that Cleveland can be proud of. It was as important a win as there has been in quite some time for the Cleveland Browns. This is a talented team that believes they can win and Mike Pettine deserves a ton of credit for the change in culture that he has created.
By: Brad Ward
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