The game between the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns on October 24, 2010 looked to be a classic mismatch. The Saints, playing at home, were the defending NFL Champions and, while not as dominating as in ’09, were still 4-2. Head Coach Sean Payton’s team again had a high-powered offense that was led by outstanding QB Drew Brees throwing to a fine group of receivers, although injuries were affecting the running game.
Meanwhile, the visiting Browns, coached by Eric Mangini, were 1-5 and starting a rookie, Colt McCoy, at quarterback. Hard-running Peyton Hillis was a capable running back, but there was little else going for Cleveland. They had added LB Scott Fujita in the offseason, who had been a key defensive player with the Saints, and he would prove helpful in facing his former team’s offense.
There were over 70,000 fans filling the Louisiana Superdome. The Saints had the first possession and punted, which provided plenty of excitement when WR Josh Cribbs returned the kick seven yards and then lateraled to DB Eric Wright, who went another 62 yards to the New Orleans 19. Six plays later, Phil Dawson kicked a 23-yard field goal to give the Browns the early lead.
New Orleans was held to a three-and-out possession and punted, with Cribbs returning it 17 yards to his own 44. Two carries by Peyton Hillis yielded 14 yards and a pass interference call on the Saints added 38 more. Hillis ran for a four-yard touchdown and, with Dawson’s extra point, the visitors were ahead by 10-0.
The Saints followed up with a long and methodical drive that featured Drew Brees completing short passes and RB Chris Ivory picking up yardage on the ground. However, an apparent Brees scoring throw to WR Lance Moore was nullified by a penalty and, two plays into the second quarter, the ex-Saint Scott Fujita intercepted a Brees pass at his own three yard line and returned it 16 yards.
The teams traded punts, with neither offense able to move, until New Orleans put together a 10-play scoring drive. Brees completed three passes and Garrett Hartley finally got the home team on the board with a 32-yard field goal.
The Browns responded by going 75 yards in eight plays, although the biggest was a fake punt by Reggie Hodges that he turned into a 68-yard run to the New Orleans nine (pictured below; the longest carry by a NFL punter in forty years). Cleveland was unable to reach the end zone from there but came away with more points on a 21-yard Dawson field goal to extend the lead to 13-3.
On the second play of the following series, Cleveland’s margin got larger when a Brees pass was picked off by LB David Bowens (pictured at top), who returned it 30 yards for a TD. Dawson added the PAT and the Browns had an improbable 20-3 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. For emphasis, CB Sheldon Brown intercepted another Brees pass before the teams headed for the locker rooms, with the home crowd booing the defending champs as they left the field.
The clubs traded punts through a scoreless third quarter, although the game was delayed for ten minutes after one in which a sideline chain holder was injured when the punt return went out of bounds. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Saints scored when Brees connected with TE David Thomas for an 11-yard touchdown. Adding the extra point, Cleveland’s lead was cut to 20-10 with plenty of time remaining.
The Browns put together a long series of 13 plays that covered 61 yards and burned up 7:34 off the clock. They converted two third downs while keeping the ball on the ground as Hillis carried eight times and even completed an option pass to Colt McCoy for 13 yards. Dawson capped the drive with a 48-yard field goal for a 13-point lead.
Brees came out throwing on the next possession, with passes to RB Ladell Betts for 16 yards and TE Jeremy Shockey for 19. But after reaching the Cleveland 34, a short pass intended for Betts was intercepted by Bowens, who scored for a second time with a 64-yard return. It was the key play of the game and effectively finished off the Saints. While New Orleans scored another touchdown on an eight-yard pass from Brees to Colston, it came with less than two minutes to play. The Browns won in a stunning 30-17 upset.
The Saints easily outgained Cleveland (394 yards to 210) and had far more first downs (25 to 12). However, New Orleans also had the four big turnovers, two of which directly led to scores, while the Browns didn’t turn the ball over at all, and big plays on special teams helped the visitors as well.
Colt McCoy (pictured at left) completed just 9 of 16 passes for 74 yards, but while he didn’t throw for any touchdowns, he also didn’t give up any interceptions. Peyton Hillis ran for 69 yards on 16 carries that included a TD and also completed a pass for 13 yards, while Reggie Hodges had the one 68-yard carry out of punt formation. WR Brian Robiskie was Cleveland’s top receiver with three catches for 25 yards.
For the Saints, Drew Brees went to the air 56 times and completed 37 for 356 yards and two TDs, but also had the four interceptions. Marques Colston had 10 pass receptions for 112 yards and a score and Ladell Betts contributed 8 catches for 48 yards out of the backfield. Chris Ivory led the ground game with 48 yards on 15 attempts.
“They say I’m the oldest guy to score two touchdowns since Larry Csonka,” joked 33-year-old David Bowens, who had the two big scoring returns of interceptions. In 11 previous seasons, he had scored one TD that came on a blocked punt.
The Browns pulled off an upset of the Patriots following their bye week but returned to earth with just two more wins in their last eight games to end up third in the AFC North at 5-11. New Orleans recovered to win six consecutive games and placed second in the NFC South with an 11-5 record. Qualifying for a Wild Card berth in the playoffs, they were upset by the Seattle Seahawks – who had won the weak NFC West with a mediocre 7-9 tally – in the first postseason round.
The win was Colt McCoy’s first as a starting pro quarterback. In eight games, he completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1576 yards and six touchdowns with nine intercepted. Peyton Hillis rushed for 1177 yards on 270 carries (4.4 avg.) and caught 61 passes for 477 more yards, leading the club with 13 total touchdowns. Neither would prove to be a long-term solution for the Browns, however.
Drew Brees, who threw 11 interceptions in all of 2009, was up to 10 in seven games after the loss to the Browns and went on to toss 22 for the year, which ranked second in the NFL. However, he also led league in completion percentage (66.3) and the NFC with 33 touchdown passes and 4620 passing yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third straight year (and fifth time overall).
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