Saints survive wild finish to edge Browns, 21-18

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It was Saints Hall of Fame Alumni weekend with Saints alumni honored on the field prior to the game and new Saints Hall of Fame inductees Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas were honored at halftime, along with team photographer Michael C. Hebert.

For a while, it appeared that would be the highlight of the day as the Saints struggled through another tough afternoon against a Cleveland team that has not won since Dec. 24, 2016 against the Chargers.

The Browns had won three straight in New Orleans. It almost became four but the Saints found a way to win while the Browns once again did not.

Here are my quick takes on the Saints’ 21-18 win over Cleveland:

Arthur Maulet and Trey Hendrickson were inactive after being active for the opener with Tampa Bay.

Alex Okafor made a big stop on third-and-four on the first Cleveland possession of the game on Duke Johnson, pursuing well on a speed sweep to stop him a yard short of the first down.

Michael Thomas lost his second fumble in as many weeks on the first offensive series for the Saints

That miscue gave Cleveland the ball at the New Orleans 46-yard line. Six plays later, Zane Gonzales booted a 39-yard field goal to make it 3-0 with 8:29 to play in the opening quarter as the drive covered 25 yards in six plays.

Taysom Hill was back deep to receive the first kickoff by the Browns but it was a touchback.

Tre’Quan Smith made his first NFL catch of the game, an 18-yard reception on the second series of the game for the Saints.

T.J. Carrie interfered with Austin Carr in the end zone, a 25-yard penalty, to put the ball at the two-yard line.

Drew Brees missed a wide open Ben Watson in the end zone, overthrowing him. It cost New Orleans dearly as they could not punch it in. Wil Lutz came on and hit a 30-yard field goal to tie the game 3-3 with 2:52 to play in the opening quarter. The drive covered 63 yards in 11 plays.

Alvin Kamara had eight touches out of the first 10 plays from scrimmage for New Orleans.

Sheldon Rankins recorded the first sack of the season for the Saints to halt the next Cleveland possession. The Saints were playing coverage, rushing just four and got pressure.

Brees then had another huge miss, badly under throwing a wide open Ted Ginn, Jr. on a deep ball. The throw was late and short. On the next play, Ginn, Jr. caught a short pass and fumbled it away, the second turnover by New Orleans. Terrance Marshall forced it and recovered it for the Browns.

Ken Crawley came up with a big stop as Cleveland played fourth-and-one from the New Orleans 37-yard line, hitting Duke Johnson, Jr. for a one-yard loss to prevent the Browns from taking advantage of the turnover by Ginn, Jr.

Thomas was flagged for holding on the next possession, negating a good run by Gillislie but he came back on the next play with a 25-yard reception.

New Orleans drove to the Cleveland 15-yard line but stalled. On third down, Max Unger got beat for a sack by Larry Ogunjobi and Lutz then pushed a 44-yard field goal wide right, another missed opportunity for the Saints.

Tommy Lee Lewis left the game with a knee injury suffered on a punt return when he was hit immediately.

The Browns drove 45 yards in seven plays with Gonzales kicking a 39-yard field goal to give them a 6-3 lead with 1:55 to play in the half. The big play of a drive was a 22-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to former Lutcher High and LSU star Jarvis Landry.

The Saints had the ball for 17:05 to just 12:55 in the first half but it mattered not.

New Orleans killed itself with mistakes in the half, including the two lost fumbles, a critical holding penalty in the red zone, two big misses by Brees for touchdowns and a missed a field goal by Lutz.

New Orleans rushed for just 21 yards on 11 carries in the first half.

Andrea Peat went out injured on the first series of the second half. He was able to return.

New Orleans went three-and-out to start the second half and Cleveland proceeded to go 79 yards in 12 plays, taking 6:27 off the clock with Carlos Hyde scoring on a one-yard run to make it 13-3. The drive was helped significantly by pass interference calls, one against Marshon Lattimore, the other on Patrick Robinson in the end zone which set up a one-yard touchdown run by Hyde to make it 12-3 with 6:43 to play in the third quarter after a missed extra point.

Hill showed his immense speed with a brilliant kickoff return to the New Orleans 40-yard line. Hill took the kickoff six yards deep in the end zone and nearly broke it.

It mattered not as the Saints could not convert another third-and-one. Knowing they could not run the ball with any success, Brees looked to pass, found no one and was sacked by Ogunjobi, who beat Unger for the second time for a sack to kill the drive.

New Orleans finally broke through in the fourth quarter, driving 66 yards in nine plays, taking 5:35 off the clock with Brees hitting Thomas on a two-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 12-10. Alvin Kamara and Thomas gained 59 of the 66 yards on the drive fo the Saints.

Sheldon Rankins was injured in the fourth quarter when he collided with teammate A.J. Klein.

Marcus Williams then came up with the biggest play of the game, intercepting a Taylor pass intended for David Nkoju and he returned it 22 yards to the Cleveland 18-yard line.

Williams read Taylor’s eyes all the way to come up with the first turnover of the season for the Saints at a crucial time.

New Orleans took advantage as Brees hit Thomas on a five-yard touchdown pass and Kamara ran in the two-point conversion to make it 18-12 with 2:40 to play in the game. Thomas went up over Denzel Ward to make the catch.

Thomas broke an NFL record for the most catches in the first two weeks in an NFL season with 28, breaking the previous mark set by Andre Rison in 1994.

The Saints defense could not hold it, allowing the Browns to drive 75 yards in six plays with Taylor hitting Antonio Calloway on a 47-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 1:16 left. It was a daring call and perfect throw. Calloway beat Ken Crawley.

Then, Gonzales missed his second extra point of the game, his third kick of the game which went left, including an earlier field goal.

Brees took advantage, hitting Ginn, Jr. on an eight-yard completion before connecting with Ginn, Jr. on a huge 42-yarder to the Cleveland 25-yard line. On third down, Brees missed an open Austin Carr open inside the 10-yard line.

Lutz came on and calmly drilled a 44-yard field goal to make it 21-18 with :21 seconds left.

Still, the Saints allowed Taylor to hit Landry with a 25-yard completion, followed by a 16-yard completion to Galloway to the New Orleans 34-yard line.

With eight seconds left, Hue Jackson elected to try the game-tying field goal from 52-yards out with a kicker who had already missed three kicks.

The Saints were not complaining. Gonzales, who earlier missed all three kicks left, pulling them, pushed this one right and the Saints escaped, literally, on a day where they seemed destined to lose for much of the afternoon.

It takes guts to win. You have to make plays. Rather than sit on the ball and try a field goal on their possession, Sean Payton went for it on two straight pass plays. Though they fell incomplete, it was the right thing to do. Play to win. The field goal was still there. Trust Brees not to make a mistake.

In the same situation, Hue Jackson did not trust Taylor. With eight seconds out, you can throw a quick out, or throw it away if it is not there, though there were no timeouts left. Given the day Gonzales was having, it might have been a good idea to get him closer.

They did not and he did not convert.

Give Lutz credit for overcoming an earlier miss. Give the Saints credit for hanging in and finally making plays after they left at least 10 points on the field, if not more, with missed opportunities. Give New Orleans credit for overcoming two turnovers.

The linebacker play was better, particularly A.J. Klein, Damario Davis and Manti Te’o. While Williams made a play in the secondary, that aspect is still quite suspect through two games. The pass rush was better.

At 1-1, the Saints are ahead of last year’s pace but they do not look the part of the team that ended last season, at this point. The running game finally got something done in the second half but Kamara is all they have, without Mark Ingram. Thomas has been spectacular, despite two lost fumbles. Brees is still very good, though he has to hit the opportunities when presented. The defense improved but still allowed Cleveland to gain 41 yards in no time with the game on the line.

Now, it is on to Atlanta to renew the rivalry. The Saints swept the Falcons last year. You know they have not forgotten. Tampa Bay is obviously better than expected but you are still down a game on the ledger of games you were supposed to win.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

Chief Executive Officer

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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