Cleveland's strong special teams play and four interceptions led to a 30-17 victory over the Saints Sunday afternoon in the Superdome.
The Saints trailed 20-3 heading into the fourth quarter, but the offense began to climb back in the game and were in position to make it a one-score game late in the final quarter.
The Browns were ahead 23-10 and New Orleans had the ball at the Cleveland 34-yard line when QB Drew Brees was intercepted by LB David Bowens, who returned it for a touchdown that sealed the game.
The Saints led the Browns in total net yards by a 394-210 margin, including a 336-85 advantage in the passing game.
"Credit Cleveland for coming in here with a really good plan and taking it to us," said Saints head coach Sean Payton. "I thought we did a lot of things well defensively but there are enough mistakes here to go around."
Brees finished the game by completing 37 of his 56 attempts for 356 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
RB Chris Ivory led the Saints in rushing with 48 yards on 15 carries.
WR Marques Colston led all receivers with season highs of 10 catches for 112 yards and a score. RB Ladell Betts added eight receptions for 48 yards. WR Lance Moore chipped in with five catches for 43 yards.
S Malcolm Jenkins notched a team-best nine tackles. Defensive captain LB Jonathan Vilma posted five tackles. Jo-Lonn Dunbar earned four tackles and his first career sack.
New Orleans won the opening toss and elected to receive. Browns K Phil Dawson had a touchback and on a second down play, Brees found Colston for a 13-yard gain. Following an incomplete pass on first down, on second down Ivory had his first carry of the day for no gain. On third and ten, Brees threw a pass to the middle of the field that was broken up by Browns S Abram Elam. Thomas Morstead, punted to Cleveland WR Joshua Cribbs, Cribbs lateraled to DB Eric Wright who ran up the field to the New Orleans 19-yard line.
On first down, Cleveland LT Joe Thomas was called for a false start. On first and 15, Browns QB Colt McCoy found WR Chansi Stuckey for a 13-yard gain.
The Browns then had a short gain for the first down. On second and goal at the four-yard line, McCoy was taken down by DT Remi Ayodele on a draw play. On third and goal from the five, McCoy faced a ferocious pass rush and was forced to throw the ball out of the end zone, sending the Cleveland field goal unit to the field, where Dawson kicked a 23-yard field goal to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead.
New Orleans started at its 23-yard line for their next drive and Brees first handed off to Ivory for a three-yard gain. On second down, Brees was sacked by former Saints LB Scott Fujita for a ten-yard loss, which would set back the drive and eventually force New Orleans to punt. Following Morstead's kick, Cribbs had a 17-yard return to the New Orleans 44-yard line.
On first down RB Peyton Hillis carried for an eight-yard gain. On second down, DE Alex Brown nearly brought down McCoy, but he was able to throw it out of bounds. On third and two, Hillis got the first down on a six-yard rush.
On first and ten at the New Orleans 42-yard line, McCoy dropped back and threw a long pass intended for Cribbs near the corner of the end zone, where Jenkins was called for a pass interference penalty that gave Cleveland first and goal at the New Orleans five-yard line. Cleveland jumped out to a 10-0 edge on a five-yard run around the corner by Hillis.
WR Courtney Roby brought the kickoff 12 yards back to the 20. On first down, Brees was sacked by LB Eric Barton, but in the process, was called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty that brought the Saints up to the 33-yard line. Brees then completed an eight-yard pass to Colston.
On second and two, Ivory carried forward four yards for the first down. With a fresh first down, Brees handed off again to Ivory and he gained four yards. On second down, Ivory ran for another four. On third and two Brees dropped back and found WR Lance Moore for a first down and a gain of 11 yards.
On first and ten from the Cleveland 36, Ivory took the handoff and moved up six yards. On second down, Colston had a grab of four yards for another first down. On the next play, Ivory lost four yards on a rush. On second and 14 at the 30-yard line, Brees dropped back and found rookie TE Jimmy Graham for a ten-yard gain.
On third and four at the 20, New Orleans called a timeout. When they came back into the huddle, Brees found Moore wide open in the middle of the field for what appeared to be a 20-yard touchdown reception, but players on both teams were called for illegal hands to the face penalties, resulting in a replay of the down.
On the replay Brees went to Moore again and he jumped out of bounds at the 16-yard line for the first down, ending the first quarter. However at the start of the second quarter, Brees threw a pass that was picked off by Fujita and returned 16 yards.
New Orleans forced a three and out and on the ensuing punt, the ball went in the air from Moore to Graham on the return with the rookie tight end bringing the ball to midfield. WR Robert Meachem gained two yards on an end around, followed by a two-yard gain by Ivory. On third down, Brees was unable to connect with TE Jeremy Shockey on a pass play, bringing Morstead to the field. Morstead put down a punt that was downed by Roby at the two-yard line.
With the Browns close to the end zone, Hillis carried for a gain of one yard, where he was stopped by Dunbar. On second and nine, McCoy threw a pass that fell on the ground before WR Yamon Figures. On third down, McCoy completed a pass to WR Brian Robiskie, but it was two yards short of a first down as Jenkins was there for the stop. Moore took the punt at the New Orleans 38 and returned it four yards.
On the first down play, Brees dropped back and his pass was broken up by Fujita. On second down, Ivory carried for a five-yard gain. Facing third and five, completed a throw to Graham in the middle of the field that went for a 15-yard gain and the first down. Ivory then got open in the middle for what would have been a long run, but FB Heave Evans was called for a holding penalty. Facing first and 20 at the 49-yard line, completed a pass in the flat to TE David Thomas for a 14-yard gain.
Working with a much more manageable second-and-six, Ivory took the handoff up the middle and gained one yard. On third down, Moore was wide open and caught a pass for a 14-yard gain and the first down. Brees threw on first down, and a pass intended for Colston was broken up by Browns DB T.J. Ward. On second down, RB Julius Jones got his first carry of the afternoon and gained six yards to the corner. On third and four, Brees was forced to throw into the end zone, where it was untouched, bringing out K Garrett Hartley and the field goal unit. Hartley booted a 32-yard kick to put New Orleans on the scoreboard.
Cribbs brought the ball back in the endsuing kickoff. On first down, McCoy went back in the pocket and his pass was tipped down by LB Danny Clark for a deflection. On second down, former Saint RB Mike Bell took his first carry for a gain of four yards. On third and six, McCoy was dropped by LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar for a two-yard loss. Browns P Reggie Hodges ran a fake punt for a 68-yard gain to the New Orleans ten-yard line. On first down, Bell was thrown by Clark for a loss of six yards. On second and 16, McCoy threw an outlet pass to Hillis where he was dropped by CB Patrick Robinson for only a two-yard gain. On third and 14, McCoy found Cribbs for a ten-yard gain, forcing the field goal unit out for a successful 21-yard field goal by Dawson.
After Roby brought the ball on the kickoff out to the 20, Brees immediately found TE Jeremy Shockey for a 12-yard gain at the two minute warning, but on the first play after the warning, his next throw was intercepted by Cleveland Bowens and he returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. New Orleans got the ball back, but another pick by Cleveland would end the half.
Cribbs took the second half opening kickoff out to the Browns 27 on a 29-yard return. On first down, McCoy, completed a 16-yard pass to Robiskie. On second down, Hillis was taken down by DT Sedrick Ellis as he gained only two yards.
On second down, he completed a screen to Stuckey for a four-yard gain before he was taken down by Robinson. On third and four, he threw a screen to Robiskie for only a three-yard gain, setting up a three and out. Hodges booted a 43-yard punt that was downed at the New Orleans seven.
New Orleans came out throwing for their first two plays of the second half as Brees completed a pair of long gains to Colston. However on their third first down of the series, G Carl Nicks was called for a holding and unsportsmanlike penalty setting the Saints up for 35 yards in losses. New Orleans was only able to get back to the 34-yard line and Morstead was sent back out to punt to Cribbs.
Cleveland's dynamic all-purpose player fielded a 56-yard punt. On the play, Roby was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that would give Cleveland the ball at their 41-yard line following a long break due to an injury suffered by a sideline staffer.
On first down for Cleveland, McCoy completed a pass to TE Benjamin Watson for a first down. Following an incomplete pass, Hillis carried up the middle for a two-yard gain. On third and eight from the New Orleans 39-yard line, McCoy threw a pass over the head of Robiskie, sending the Cleveland punting unit out. Moore punted the ball to Moore where he called a fair catch at the New Orleans 11-yard line.
New Orleans got a first down on a four-yard rush by Ivory and a pass to David Thomas. Graham then had his second grab of the game, this one for 11 yards and another first down. Ivory ran up the middle for four yards. On second and six at the 37, Brees completed a pass to Colston, just past the markers for a gain of seven. On the next play, Brees threw a screen to WR Devery Henderson that resulted in a loss of three after it was stopped by Fujita. But the Saints would rebound and Brees completed a 29-yard pass to Meachem to move the Saints to the 30-yard line.
New Orleans got up one yard to the 29 on the completion to Betts. On second down, Ivory, carried for three yards setting up a third-and-six. Brees found Colston for a three-yard gain, as it was initially ruled that he fumbled and lost two yards. Following a New Orleans challenge, it was ruled that Colston had not fumbled and that his knee was down at the 21-yard line setting up a fourth and one. Ivory then took the fourth and one and converted it for an eight yard gain and the first down. With first down at the 13-yard line, Brees' first pass inside the red zone on the drive was incomplete.
On second and 10, FB Heave Evans carried for a gain of two. On third and eight, Brees completed a pass at the three-yard line to Thomas and he scampered in for the touchdown.
On the kickoff, Cribbs returned the ball to their 21, the Browns would drive past midfield on a combination of passes and runs. On first down at the New Orleans 48, Hillis gained three yards. On second down, Bell carried and was stopped by DE Will Smith for only a two-yard gain. On third-and-five, Hillis ran a halfback option pass to McCoy that was completed for a gain of 11 to the New Orleans 32. Browns drove to the New Orleans 19 yard line where on 3rd and 19, LB Marvin Mitchell tackled bell for a seven yard loss.
Following a five-yard false start penalty by the Brown's Dawson booted his third field goal of the game on a 48-yard kick to give the Browns a 23-10 lead with 6 minutes left in the game.
Brees led the offense to the Cleveland 43-yard line where on 3rd and eight Brees hit Colston for four-yard gain. Next play, No. 9 connects with Moore for first down at 34-yard line.
Two plays later, Brees was intercepted by Bowens and the LB returned the pick for a touchdown for the second time as he raced 64 yards down the left sideline for the score to give Cleveland a 30-10 advantage.
The Saints were able to trim the lead at the end by driving 71 yards on 11 plays and Brees found Colston in the right corner of the endzone to put the score at 30-17.
The Saints failed to convert on an onside kick and McCoy kneeled three straight plays to close out the contest.