Folks in Cleveland are not accustomed to winning, which was apparent in the last few minutes of the Browns-Saints game and in the aftermath.
With the Saints clinging to a one point lead and plenty of time left on the clock, the Browns’ faithless started to glumly file out of FirstEnergy Stadium.
They just knew how the contest was going to end, just as the past nine consecutive home openers the Browns dropped.
Yet local unheralded quarterback Brian Hoyer and his team found a way to win just as their opponents found a way to lose.
The smokestacks that more often than not bellow out dark clouds of defeat out of the stadium known as The Factory of Sadness (a defeatist Xanadu with its own Facebook check in) ceased to spew forth in the fourth quarter.
As one-time Saints kicker Billy Cundiff booted in the final go ahead points with three seconds remaining on the clock, the Factory of Sadness became The Factory of Gladness.
The orange and brown attired boosters barked triumphantly, hugged their seatmates and The Plain Dealer (Cleveland’s newspaper) gave the win a frontpage splash typically reserved for winning a conference championship or Super Bowl.
But mixed in the jubilation was the bitterness of a long suffering base seeking to share their pain as the surliest fans of a club that has never participated in a Super Bowl declared to the legion of Black and Gold visitors that their team sucked.
It was like watching people in Section 8 housing throwing a party over their more affluent neighbors’ bankruptcy filing.
To some degree, the rabid angry Brown elves, or whatever their classic mascot is, are right.
Just as there was no fire in the furnaces in the “Factory”, there was also no fire in the Saints’ belly.
Running back Mark Ingram excepted.
In fact the only good thing that could be said about the visit to northeast Ohio is that head coach Sean Payton not only demonstrated his commitment to establishing a ground game but the team’s running back committee appears able to follow through on the strategy.
The New Orleans club played football that alternated between listless and sloppy, harkening back to their previous matchup in the Superdome when the heavily favored Saints were confounded by a flurry of flawlessly executed gimmick plays Payton salivates over.
Though there were many instances of self-destruction throughout the game, the turning point was when quarterback Drew Brees got sacked while leading a drive in Browns territory that had moments before acted as an air raid siren that sent cynical Browns fans scurrying to the exits.
The sack not only denied the Saints of the kill shot that would have put the game away but also knocked the Saints out of range for a field goal attempt that would have forced the Browns to play for the end zone instead of the uprights.
Also to the credit of punter Tommy Morstead, he did his job, turning an offensive setback into a defensive advantage hemming the Browns offense deep into their own territory. That should have been enough to practically ice the game. All the defense had to do is their job.
Yet 85 yards and two minutes and forty seconds later, the Browns’ less than formidable offense was in the Saints’ red zone and a chip shot field goal away from retiring a decade long home opening win drought.
And there was the real agony of the defeat. The squad that in 2013 rebounded from the team’s historically awful 2012 season began to resemble Spags’s defense. Even more frustrating, there’s no sign of improvement with the expensive offseason upgrade at free safety while the big play hemorrhaging continues at cornerback as opposing offenses keep looking for Patrick Robinson and Corey White.
While on paper the losses don’t seem that bad having dropped a pair of games by a combined five points, the notches in the loss column against two of the less challenging opponents on the schedule could be the difference in homefield advantage in the postseason or even making the playoffs at all.
And unless the offensive line does a better job protecting Brees and the defense starts to make big plays or at least force the opponents off the field by stopping first downs, the losses will continue to add up with only the margins of the defeat varying.
The Saints will have an opportunity to stop the spiral at home against the Minnesota Vikings, whose best player will be returning to the field on Sunday after missing last week’s game.
If the Saints don’t stop the spiral this weekend against the Minnesota Vikings in the Superdome, general manager Mickey Loomis won’t need to trade up too high to grab the best cornerback available in the 2015 NFL Draft.