CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns were defeated by the New Orleans Saints, 17-10, on Saturday at FirstEnergy Stadium, but that’s just what the scoreboard said.
Here are the winners and losers:
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Winner: Carl Granderson
Saints defensive end Carl Granderson made the game-clinching sack to help improve New Orleans’ record to 6-9. Prior to his sack, the Browns trailed 17-10 while approaching a fourth and 10 from New Orleans’ 15-yard line on the 18th play of their last drive of the game.
Deshaun Watson contributed 49 of the total 58 yards through the air, and was looking to make his first regular-season game-winning drive in three years.
His 18-yard completion to David Bell positioned them in the red zone, but the next three plays were incomplete passes, two of them touching the hands of the targeted receivers. This led to the fourth-and-10, and what would become the last play for the Browns.
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Watson had stepped into the pocket for a few seconds, while Saints defensive end Carl Granderson had lined up as an edge rusher, only to drop and cover the Browns’ David Njoku. After Watson didn’t throw the ball within the first few seconds, Granderson noticed this and rushed back to help his teammates put pressure on Watson.
As he came across the 15-yard line, the timing couldn’t have been better as Watson attempted to scramble out of the pocket, only to meet Granderson, who took him to the ground by his legs.
Loser: David Bell
The rookie wide receiver has received praise for his consistent and sturdy hands that could catch a piano falling from the sky. Prior to Saturday’s matchup, Bell had caught 22 of his 29 targets, but most of the passes targeted for Bell were either not catchable, or thrown into traffic.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday, with only a few minutes left of the third-quarter in a tight 10-10 matchup. A second-and-11 watched Bell beat New Orleans’ Alontae Taylor on the slant, and he dove for the catch thrown by Watson.
Instead, the ball hit the palms of Bell’s hands, only to jump through and into the hands of New Orleans’ Daniel Sorenson, giving Watson his third interception in four games. Sorenson took the pick 36 yards downfield to position New Orleans in the red zone. The Saints eventually scored a rushing touchdown to take a 17-10 lead.
Winner: Grant Delpit
The third-year safety has improved his play the last few games, coming with a different grit. According to Pro Football Focus, last week versus the Ravens, Delpit recorded his highest run-defense grading (85.2), one of his highest tackle gradings (82.6), and his second-highest overall defensive grade of the season (72.2).
Delpit continued his better play on Saturday during a sluggish offensive first-quarter. As New Orleans’ Andy Dalton attempted a pass to Juwan Johnson, it batted off Johnson and up in the air for Delpit to grab.
As he came down with his third career interception, he ran 40 yards downfield to position the Browns’ offense 30 yards away from the end zone. The interception led to the Browns offense striking first for a 7-0 lead.
Loser: The Browns’ Tackling
The Browns defense entered Saturday with the third worst tackling grade in the NFL (34.7), according to Pro Football Focus.
No example of this from Saturday’s loss was more apparent than when multiple Browns defenders allowed Taysom Hill to power through them for the Saints’ second, and final, touchdown of the game.
The Saints started the second half with the ball, and had already positioned themselves in the red zone after Hill rushed for 13 yards on the series’ seventh play. But it was a couple plays later, when Hill commanded the ground he ran into while barely touched. On a second and 6, 8 yards away from the end zone, Hill snapped the ball with a fake handoff to take it himself down the middle.
Alex Wright struck first for the tackle, but did a mini merry-go-round as Hill ran him off. Greg Newsome II was next as Wright fell to the ground, only to be expended and hold on for dear life. As Hill approached the 3-yard line, the last chances of bringing him down were Chase Winovich and John Johnson III from behind, only to see Hill power past them into the end zone.
Hill’s role in the Saints offense has never been a surprise. But still, even with Hill right in front of them, they failed to take him down.
Winner: Browns fans
This was the coldest regular-season home game in franchise history, at kickoff, the wind chill was negative-16 degrees, yet the fans who were there stuck it out and brought the noise. The strong gusts of winds had the street lights shaking, the icy roads delayed any trip set by vehicle, yet they showed up.
I commend every Browns fan who attended Saturday’s Christmas Eve matchup, knowing the risk of becoming frozen by the game’s end, like Jack Torrance in “The Shining.” Major respect.
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