Browns dial up big plays, bag of tricks to stun slumping Saints

BEREA, Ohio -- There's a photo of Cleveland Browns punter Reggie Hodges sprinting untouched past unaware Saints players following a fake Sunday in New Orleans. In the picture, Hodges actually appears to be laughing.

"I don't know if he was shocked that he's still running or he can't believe it," Browns coach Eric Mangini said Monday. "It was a nicely executed play."

It wasn't the only one. The Browns made all kinds of big plays in The Big Easy.

Pulling off three perfectly timed tricks -- a 68-yard run by Hodges, a 62-yard throwback by Joshua Cribbs to Eric Wright on a punt return, a 13-yard pass from running back Peyton Hillis to rookie quarterback Colt McCoy -- and getting two interception returns for touchdowns by linebacker David Bowens, the Browns stunned the defending Super Bowl champions 30-17 in the Superdome.

In a city where voodoo still has roots, the Browns put a spell on the Saints.

By using a dizzying array of fronts and formations, Cleveland flustered New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees into one of his worst games as a pro, a four-interception debacle.

The Browns' offense gained just 210 yards but moved the ball when needed. McCoy, making just his second NFL start, guided Cleveland on a 13-play, 50-yard drive that chewed up 7:34 in the fourth quarter.

And, the Browns (2-5) went into their bye week by delivering a much-needed win to Mangini, whose future with the team remains sketchy.

As the clock wound down, linebackers Marcus Benard and Titus Brown doused defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who outwitted Saints coach Sean Payton with his daring schemes and blitzes, by dumping a bucket of Gatorade over the popular and colorful coach's head.

"I think the guys just felt like he needed a shower, and whatever was available at the moment, Gatorade was it," Mangini jokingly said before turning serious. "I think they appreciated the plan and him as well."

The Browns spend a few minutes at practice each week working on gadget plays in the event they find an opportunity to use one.

Sunday, they saw three chances.

On New Orleans' first punt, Cribbs caught the ball at his own 12 and ran 7 yards, drawing in Saints defenders, before firing the ball across the field to Wright. Cleveland's cornerback, who has had a rough year in coverage, then sprinted up the sideline before being tripped up at New Orleans' 19.

The Browns had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Phil Dawson, but the play set the tone for a day of surprises.

"They pulled out all the stops," Brees said. "You don't run two fakes on special teams unless you feel like you need to create an edge, and obviously they were successful in both those regards. You throw a pass back to a quarterback on a critical third down.

"You don't take chances like that unless you feel like you need those in order to win."

Mangini disputed Brees' claim, pointing out that the Saints have reached into their own bag of tricks, most famously with an onside kick to open the second half in last season's Super Bowl.

"I don't know exactly what he's talking about," Mangini said. "They run the flea flicker quite a bit. They do a lot of exotic type stuff. They had an onside kick in the Super Bowl. To me, it's not about needing to win. To me, you're doing anything you can in order to win.

"I don't think those were over the top or risky if you've got the right look."

As for McCoy's immediate future as a starter, Mangini said he will wait until after the bye week before deciding on which quarterback will face the New England Patriots on Nov. 7. Veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are coming off high ankle sprains, and Mangini won't know their playing status for several days.

The coach praised McCoy's poise, ability to avoid turnovers and handle another hostile crowd in Sunday's win. Mangini doesn't feel any pressure to play the third-round draft pick, who made his debut in Pittsburgh one week earlier, and said he will consult with team president Mike Holmgren before deciding on a starter.

Mangini did say he will base his choice on Cleveland's next opponent -- not any long-term goals.

"The playing time (McCoy) has gotten has been great," Mangini said, "and the things he has shown have been really positive. We're going to try and play the guy who we think is going to give us the best chance to win on Sunday."

This is the third consecutive year the Browns have upset the defending Super Bowl champions. Last December, a 13-6 victory over Pittsburgh triggered a four-game winning streak -- a season-ending burst that probably saved Mangini's job.

The coach refused to acknowledge if Sunday's win bought him any favor with Holmgren. Mangini insists his sole focus remains on the next game, and it would be hypocritical for him to ask his players to adopt a one-game-at-a-time mentality and then not do it himself.

Since 1990, three teams that started 2-5 have made the playoffs. In a season of unpredictability, would it be far-fetched to think the Browns could be creeping into the playoff picture?

"I really believe anything is possible," Mangini said. "But the most important thing is to never make your focus on what's nine weeks down the road. You can't get to nine weeks down the road right now, but you can get to that next game. Just win that one, and deal with the one after it and win that one. That's the approach that works.

That, and the occasional trick play.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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