CLEVELAND, OH – For Cleveland Browns fans, Monday’s are so much better after a victory, especially in the home opener. It took the Browns ten years, but Cleveland got the job done against the New Orleans Saints, 26-24 with some last-minute heroics by handful of players. Here are my thoughts and observations from the nail-biting contest.
Flipping the Script: We’ve all seen this story before. To steal a Butch Davis line, they play “their guts out”, get a lead near the end of the game, only to blow it by the time the clock hits zeros. Am I right?
It was all hands on deck for the orange and brown in the final quarter. It wasn’t one player that had to make a play, it was a team refusing to be the same old same old. For once, things went the Browns’ way and not the other teams’.
Brian Moxie: His stat line may not be that great (24/40 for 204 yards & 1 TD), but Brian Hoyer showed poise in the pocket, toughness, and heart on Sunday. But, the most important stat of them all – Hoyer did not turn the ball over to the Saints. Hoyer is now 4-1 as a Browns starter and has not thrown an interception in 139 attempts. That’s tops in the NFL right now.
Coaching Staff Praise: There is one huge piece of information that needs to be understood. In the past, the Browns were known for burning through their time outs in the second half. Whether it be communication error, poor clock management, or something else, the Browns would almost always waste a crucial timeout that could have been used towards the end of the game when they needed it most.
The Browns had all three time outs left during the final game winning drive. The story is much different had the Browns not had that final timeout to set up the Billy Cundiff game winning field goal. Hats off to Mike Pettine and his staff for that. They called a clean game with only four penalties for 30 yards. For the first time in I don’t remember, the Browns also did not have an illegal formation penalty. Congratulations to Coach Pettine and the entire Cleveland Browns organization.
Offensive Player of the Game: We could talk about Hoyer all day for orchestrating that game winning drive, but my offensive player of the game is not Hoyer. I don’t think there was more of important player on offense than tight end Gary Barnidge. The 28-year-old had only four catches for 41 yards, but what the stat line doesn’t show is how crucial those receptions were.
Three of the four catches were for big conversions. Barnidge converted two big third downs and arguably the biggest play of the day – a fourth and seven that Hoyer threaded to him on the final drive near midfield. If Barnidge does not hang onto that bullet, everyone is singing a different tune today. All of Barnidge’s conversions ended up with the Browns scoring points.
Defensive Player of the Game: I can’t praise veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby enough. One of the leaders of the entire team, Dansby plays with nastiness and serious physicality. Because of Dansby, the Browns seemed to have an angry attitude and confident swagger to them in the first half. Leading the Browns in tackles (8), Dansby saved his best play for the final time Drew Brees and his offense would see the field.
With the Saints bearing down and threatening to add three more to their one point lead, Dansby shot the “A” gap on a blitz sacking Brees six yards behind the line of scrimmage. The sack knocked the Saints out of field goal range and forced a punt. That play not only changed some momentum, but lifted First Energy Stadium’s spirit for one final drive.
Centerfield: I wrote about in my “DAWG Bones” last week and it held true. I liked the match up of Brees versus safety Tashaun Gipson. If the Browns were to beat the Saints, a turnover was needed. In the second quarter, Gipson snatched an overthrown ball by Brees and took it to the house for the pick six. That play put the Browns up 16-3 and stopped a Saints potential scoring drive.
Graham Cracker: Cleveland cracked the mystery of Jimmy Graham in the first half, but not the second. I have come to the conclusion that Graham is pretty much unstoppable. The Browns tried five different players on him and they all came up empty. His size, frame, and basketball agility is just too much for most defenders in the NFL. My only question is – why didn’t the Browns double team him? It’s a very simple concept, make someone else beat you, not Graham. Take the former Miami Hurricane out of this game, and it’s not even close. Graham finished with nine catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
Kardiac Kids II: It’s only been two games, but there is no question that the players believe in Pettine’s system. The Browns show heart, emotion, resolve, and refuse to give in and be the same old Browns. In two games the point differential is 5 points. They lost on the final play of the game to the Pittsburgh Steelers by three and won on a game winning field by two yesterday. If these two games against good teams are any indication, the Browns and their fans are in for one roller coaster ride of a season. Look at your finger nails today, do you have any left?
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Email Ryan at ryan.ruiz@http://18.104.22.168/~theinscr