So many times in recent seasons, there are times the Cleveland Browns had a valiant effort on the field only to fall just short on the scoreboard.
It happened so much, former Brown Josh Cribbs once said the team almost always almost wins.
Today was different for Mike Pettine and his team as he picked up his first win as an NFL head coach with a 26 -24 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Billy Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal with :03 left on the clock.
To win the game, Brian Hoyer took his team 85 yards on 14 plays to set up the kicker, including a 28-yard pass to Andrew Hawkins to set up the final kick with 13 seconds left.
The game started with the Browns on fire, forcing a three and out on the Saints’ first series and basically shutting down New Orleans throughout the first quarter allowing Cleveland to take a 10-0 lead.
But Drew Brees figured with the amount of emphasis the Browns were putting on the passing game, it might be time to start running, and the Saints did that successfully all day, gaining 174 yards on the ground, getting 6.4 yards per carry.
After the success Pittsburgh had in week one on the ground, the defense better get this under control or they will see a steady diet of opponents just beating them with the run.
John Hughes missed today’s game once again and he plays the run very well, but it is doubtful one player makes that much of a difference.
After the opening stanza, the Saints moved the ball seemingly at will with the only hiccups being a Brees’ interception being returned for a touchdown by Tashaun Gipson, which gave Cleveland a 16-3 lead because the extra point was botched. It looked for a long time like that might come back to haunt the Browns as well.
The main reason for that was the inability to stop Saints’ TE Jimmy Graham, who 10 throws for 118 yards and a TD. The Browns simply had no answer for him.
In the fourth quarter, with Cleveland needing a stop on their own 31 yard line, Karlos Dansby made the key play of the game defensively as he sacked Brees, forcing the Saints out of field goal range.
The ensuing punt was the last snap made by New Orleans for the rest of the game.
Cleveland used a balanced attack throughout the game and the rookie running backs continue to shine as Terrance West gained 68 yards and Isaiah Crowell picked up 54 more with West getting a touchdown.
Hawkins was once again Hoyer’s favorite target, grabbing six throws for 70 yards including the decisive offensive play of the game. And TE Gary Barnidge took up the slack for Jordan Cameron, catching 4 balls for 41 yards.
And also kudos to Hoyer, who is quieting any calls for Johnny Manziel thus far, completing 24 of 40 for 204 yards and leading the winning drive, which again started from his own four.
He may not be pretty, but he’s also 4-1 as the Browns’ starting quarterback. And there shouldn’t any more talk about Manziel being the starter when the Browns come back from their bye week.
Defensively, Dansby is showing more and more how vital his leadership is with eight tackles including the huge sack on the Saints’ last offensive play. And Paul Kruger had another sack, his second straight game with one after struggling last year.
Whatever happened at halftime at Heinz Field, the Cleveland Browns look like a different football team. Not just different from the first half of the Steelers’ game, but different from the last five years.
Next week’s game against the Ravens is another chance to show the progress this football team has made.