Saints surprised by Browns in 30-17 shocker

Payton was in a stupor at the conclusion in the Superdome

This game started off badly for the New Orleans Saints. The Cleveland Browns stepped off the plane ready to play football which is more than I can say for the home team.

The Saints came out flat. Failing to do anything on their first possession, they were forced to punt. That’s when Cleveland started with their systematic dismantling of the defending Superbowl champs. Josh Cribbs, who fielded the punt from Morstead, lobbed it across the field to Eric Wright who then took it 80 yards and deep into Saints’ territory. They had to settle for 3 points because of some solid defensiveplays by the Saints, but that score didn’t hold for long. The Saints went three and out and gave the ball right back to the Browns. Peyton Hillisstarted what would be a productive day for him statwise. He capped off a 56-yard, 4 play drive with a touchdown, giving the Browns a 10-0 lead over the Saints. Hillis had 16 rushes for 69 yards on the day.

At last the Saints got a little offense going and were able to put a successful drive together. Then wouldn’t you know it! Ex-Saint, Scott Fujita, intercepted Breesin the red zone, ending what had been a very successful drive. Fujita had already sacked Brees once and had a couple of key tackles.

But the Saints went on the move again, getting deep into Browns territory. Then as if all the razzle dazzle from the Browns and mental errors by the Saints weren’t ammunition enough, Jahri Evans was flagged for a hands-to-the-face penalty which offset with the same from Shaun Rogers of the Browns, negating a critical touchdown by Lance Moore. The Saints ended up having to settle for 3, making the score 10-3 at that point.

But the Browns weren’t done with the trickery. They ran 67 yards on a fake punt that the Saints clearly weren’t expecting. The defense would, however, hold them to a field goal. The score was 13-3.

Nonetheless, on the Saints next possession, Drew Brees was intercepted on a weird series of events. On a very ill-advised throw to begin with, the ball richochetedoff the foot of one of the offensive linemen and was picked off by David Bowens, who literally walked into the endzone from there. Needless to say, the Saints and their fans were stunned at being down 20-3 at home.  Home field was no advantage for the black and gold today.

Still and all, I kept waiting for the Saints to get going offensively. But the Browns defense was unrelenting. Because the Saints couldn’t run the ball the way they wanted, it was clear that Brees was going to have to make enough plays to compensate. As usual, that didn’t work out so well. Trying to make something happen before halftime, he lobbed up what would be his third interception of the half. The score was still 20-3.

The Saints eventually scored a touchdown a few minutes into the 3rd quarter, making the score 20-10 at that point. But the Browns answered right back. They managed to chew up the clock and finish off with another field goal, edging the score up to 23-10.

The Saints weren’t quite done yet though. They put together a very impressivedrive that made me wonder where that energy had been all game long. But neither the energy nor any hopes of getting back into this one would last long. Brees threw another bad pass that was intercepted by Bowen and run back for a touchdown. The Saints did go on to score another touchdown, but it was a futile attempt to cap off a dismal performance by Brees and company.

You know, in my last article I indicated that I was worried about the problems the Saints (Brees in particular) would face against another 3-4 defense. For whatever reason, Sean Payton chose to virtually abandon the screen once again. But there was one to Betts in which he picked up some good yardage–even though it was in an impossible situation; it’s hard to pick up 35 yards. Still, in games in which the run has been stifled and it all falls on Brees’ shoulders, the Saints have lost. When will Sean Payton realize this and understand that the screen in some form has to be a staple in the Saints’ offense when the conventional run is off limits? I’ve heard critics say that it makes a team too predictable, but a good screen is hard to defend for at least 5+ yards. I realize that no one runs it like Pierre Thomas, but Betts hasn’t looked too bad on screens either.  At any rate, they need to find a way to supplement or extend the run game if they plan on making it to the postseason because these defensive schemes aren’t going to get any easier.

To be honest, the Saints found plenty of ways to give this game away. It would take a miracle to overcome turnovers and penalties, especially when they lead to quick scores. But you can’t take anything away from the Browns. They came to New Orleans with a perfect gameplan and they stuck to it. Colt McCoy looked like a veteran quarterback all day long and Peyton Hillis was a rushing machine. They didn’t turn the ball over, they mixed things up, and they were physical. And the coaching offensively, defensively, and on special teams was simply brilliant. In other words, they flipped the script on Payton and the Saints. Sure the boys dropped one today that many thought would be a sure win. And what’s worse is that it won’t be any easier next week when the Pittsburgh Steelers (who are arguably playing the best football in the NFL at this point) come to town.

Right now the Saints have two personalities. Last week’s was the good one that comes out sharp and doesn’t make critical mistakes. The one that got torched today was the undisciplined one that comes out and goes through the motions. So far, that second one has shown up far more than it should.  It’s past time for still searching for a fix.  Week 7 is in the books.

I know many would disagree, but I’d say it’s time to sound the panic button. When a team like the Saints comes out lethargic and undisciplined and drops one to a team that is 1-5, that’s a serious situation. At 4-3, we are once again trailing the Atlanta Falcons, who at 5-2 now, are heftily in control of the NFC South. If the Saints aren’t winning games that they shouldlike against Arizona and Cleveland, you’ve got to wonder how they’ll perform against “better” teams (especially the rest of the AFC North). We’re already looking at not only losing the division, but scrambling to even qualify for a Wildcard spot. I’m sorry if this offends some, but it’s a reality. If the Saints don’t step it up, they will be watching other teams in the offseason while they sit home.  It’s a truth none of us are ready to face, I’m sure, but it’s a truth nonetheless.  It’s not to say that I or anyone who agrees with me have lost the faith in the team, but realism is a part of life too.  I know what they are capable of, but they’re just not showing it right now.  All I’m saying is if they don’t get on track soon, it will be too little, too late.

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