Final recap: Browns 30, Saints 17 (click here for the box score)
Browns linebacker David Bowens returned two interceptions for touchdowns to help lift Cleveland to a shocking 30-17 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints (4-3) on Sunday at the Superdome. Bowens returned his first interception 32 yards for a touchdown, helping the Browns (2-5) take a 20-3 halftime lead. Then in the fourth quarter, he returned another pick 64 yards to seal Cleveland's win. The Browns had stellar performances on defense, picking off four passes from one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, the Saints' Drew Brees. How did they do it? They disguised coverages better than they had all season. They showed man-to-man coverage before the snap, then actually played zone. They showed blitzes, then actually dropped into coverage. Cornerback Sheldon Brown had an interception, safety Abram Elam should have had one and rookie safety T.J. Ward got his hands on two of Brees' passes. Basically, the Browns confused the Saints' offense. Cleveland's defensive secondary has struggled throughout the season, but it shined in Week 7. The Browns also had three sacks -- one each by linebackers Scott Fujita, Marcus Benard and Chris Gocong. Fujita played as if he was possessed against his former team. He finished with a team-high 11 tackles and an interception. The Browns' special teams also provided some highlights. Reggie Hodges' 68-yard run on a fake punt, and Josh Cribbs' lateral to Eric Wright -- which turned into a 61-yard return by Wright -- led to two first-half field goals. Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy didn't finish with dazzling statistics: He completed 9-of-16 passes for 74 yards. But McCoy managed the game well, and Cleveland didn't commit a turnover. The Browns also had a season-low four penalties for 30 yards. Not bad for an offense controlled by a rookie playing in one of the loudest venues in professional sports, right? As Cribbs told me after the game, "I think that the rookie showed that he can play in this league. He can make things happen. He can win ballgames." McCoy didn't win the game Sunday; the Browns' defense and special teams did. But he certainly didn't lose it, either. He led the offense on a 13-play, 50-yard drive that wasted 7 minutes, 34 seconds of precious time in the fourth quarter after the Saints trimmed their deficit to 10 points. Perhaps his best play of the game was his 13-yard reception from running back Peyton Hillis on a trick play. Yes, the Browns pulled out all the stops this time.
End 1Q: Browns 10, Saints 0 -- 1. Phil Dawson hit a 23-yard field goal to give the Browns a 3-0 lead with 10:25 left in the first quarter. 2. Running back Peyton Hillis ran for a 4-yard touchdown on a toss-sweep play to the left. Dawson made the extra-point kick to give the Browns a 10-0 lead with 6:48 left in the first quarter. Instant impressions -- 1. Give the Browns credit for being creative. After the Saints' opening drive stalled, they punted to Josh Cribbs. Cribbs ran to the 20-yard line, and fired a lateral pass to cornerback Eric Wright. Wright then ran 61 yards down the Saints' sideline to give the Browns first-and-10 on New Orleans' 19-yard line. The Browns, however, were held to a field goal. 2. Browns linebacker Scott Fujita is taking out his frustration on his former team. He sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees, drawing boos from the crowd. 3. Give McCoy credit for staying aggressive. He threw a deep pass to Cribbs in the end zone. The pass fell incomplete, but Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins was called for pass interference. The penalty cost the Saints 38 yards, and gave the Browns first-and-goal at New Orleans' 4. Hillis ran for his touchdown on the next play.
End 2Q: Browns 20, Saints 3 -- 1. Garrett Hartley made a 32-yard field goal with 5:32 left in the second quarter to trim New Orleans' deficit to seven points.2. Dawson nailed a 21-yard field goal to extend the Browns' lead to 13-3 with 2:18 left in the first half. 3. Browns linebacker David Bowens returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown to extend Cleveland's lead. Dawson's PAT gave the Browns a 20-3 advantage with 1:49 left before halftime. Instant impressions -- 1. I told you Fujita was fired up for this game. He intercepted a pass from Brees at Cleveland's 3 and returned it 16 yards. Fujita's pick could prove to be a huge momentum swing. The Saints were on the verge of scoring, but the Browns' red-zone defense held. 2. The Browns have also come close to making a few more interceptions. Rookie safety T.J. Ward has broken up a couple of passes, and safety Abram Elam dropped one thrown right at him in the first quarter. Brees has had better days. 3. Browns special teams coordinator Brad Seely looks like a genius right now. On fourth-and-6 from their own 25, the Browns executed a fake punt to perfection. Punter Reggie Hodges ran right up the middle for a whopping 68-yard gain, setting up first-and-goal at the Saints' 9. The Browns, though, couldn't capitalize with a touchdown and had to settle for Dawson's second field goal of the game. 4. Bowens' interception was unbelievable. The ball deflected off him, bounced off the back of Saints offensive lineman Jahri Evans and back into Bowens' hands. 5. Brees couldn't look any worse. He threw three interceptions in the first half, including one to Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown right before halftime. Cleveland's defensive secondary is playing at an extremely high level.
End 3Q: Browns 20, Saints 3 -- No scoring. Instant impressions -- 1. The Browns failed to take complete control of the game by stalling on the opening drive of the second half. They could have really buried the Saints there. 2. Fortunately for the Browns, the Saints did nothing with their first possession of the third quarter to show they're poised for a comeback. In fact, they keep helping the Browns. Saints left guard Carl Nicks killed his team's first possession of the second half when he was called for holding and unsportsmanlike. 3. As the Saints punted after their opening drive stalled, wide receiver Courtney Roby ran out of bounds and collided with a member of the chain gang named Al Nastasi. Nastasi was injured, carted off the field by medical personnel and taken to a nearby hospital for further evaluation. His status was not immediately available. Roby was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for running out of bounds and re-entering the field of play.
End 4Q: Browns 30, Saints 17 -- 1. Brees hit tight end David Thomas with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 13:29 left in the fourth quarter. Hartley's PAT was good, trimming New Orleans' deficit to 20-10. 2. Dawson hit a 48-yard field goal with 5:55 left in the fourth quarter. 3. Bowens did it again, this time with a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown. Dawson's PAT was good, giving the Browns a 30-10 lead with 3:33 left. 4. Brees hit wide receiver Marques Colston with an 8-yard touchdown pass with 1:38 left in the fourth quarter, and the PAT was good. But it was too little, too late for the Saints. Instant impressions -- 1. The crowd at the Superdome went wild with cheers when the Saints scored their first touchdown of the day. New Orleans is still in this one despite a dismal first half. 2. The Browns gained a crucial first down after an unusual sequence. On third-and-5 from Cleveland's 24, McCoy hit wide receiver Chansi Stuckey with a pass. After a challenge, Stuckey was ruled down by contact, but the Browns got a first down anyway by accepting an illegal hands to the face penalty that was called on Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. 3. The Browns decided to allow running back Peyton Hillis to pound the Saints' defense with his bruising style. They took 7 minutes, 34 seconds off the clock by using that strategy. 4. Don't accuse offensive coordinator Brian Daboll of lacking creativity. The Browns picked up 13 yards and a vital first down when Hillis took a direct snap, ran right and hit McCoy with a pass, helping set up Dawson's last field goal. 4. What in the world did Bowens eat for breakfast. Two interceptions returned for a touchdown? Wow.
Top storylines: 1. Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy will make his second consecutive start. He was respectable in his NFL regular-season debut last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Can he take the next step? 2. Both teams will be playing with replacement parts. A week after taking a devastating hit from Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, who suffered a concussion, is inactive. With tackle Tony Pashos on injured reserve, the Browns will also use a new rotation on the right side of their offensive line: Billy Yates at guard and Floyd Womack at tackle. 3. Meanwhile, the Saints will play without their starting cornerbacks, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter. 4. McCoy will be facing one of his heroes in Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the reigning Super Bowl MVP. 5. The Saints' top two running backs, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, are still sidelined, so watch out for undrafted rookie Chris Ivory, a product of Division II Tiffin University. He ran for 158 yards last week.
Inactive players: Browns -- QB Seneca Wallace, WR Mohamed Massaquoi, QB Jake Delhomme, RB James Davis, OL Steve Vallos, OL John St. Clair, TE Alex Smith and DL Jayme Mitchell. Saints -- CB Tracy Porter, RB Pierre Thomas, RB Reggie Bush, CB Jabari Greer, LB Scott Shanle, OL Charles Brown, TE Tory Humphrey and DE Junior Galette.
Lineup changes: Browns -- Josh Cribbs will start in place of Mohamed Massaquoi at wide receiver; Billy Yates will start in place of Floyd Womack and right guard; Womack will start in place of Tony Pashos at right tackle; Colt McCoy will start in place of Jake Delhomme at quarterback. Saints -- Stanley Arnoux will start in place of Scott Shanle at weak side linebacker; Patrick Robinson will start in place of Jabari Greer at cornerback; Leigh Torrence will start in place of Tracy Porter at cornerback; Chris Ivory will start in place of Reggie Bush at running back.
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