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Browns Browns Archive The Year This Week Didn't Suck: Week 12
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

browns saints 2002As we struggle to survive another season with the new-era Browns, one way we can try to get through it (besides alcohol or heavy medication) is to look back at the best individual weeks of the Browns’ new era to remember times in recent memory when this particular week didn’t suck.

Perhaps appropriately, the one season in which the Browns reached the playoffs since their return was their most frustrating.

From the opener (“Helmet-Gate”) through its gut-wrenching postseason climax (“Foge Fazio-Gate”), the 2002 campaign was an irritating roller-coaster ride. The seat-belts didn’t fasten, the turns punctured your lungs with your ribs, and it felt like the whole thing might slip off the rails at any second. But dammit if you still didn’t get a rush.

In the context of the Browns’ expansion era, 2002 was, in general, enjoyable. The problem was that the potholes along the way were difficult to both comprehend and digest, resulting in inexcusable losses caused by sloppy preparation, miserable performances, and bone-headed mistakes.

Even in victory, the Browns were often outplayed and/or fortunate to escape, hence the appropriate nickname of “Kardiac Klowns.” But in one of the Browns’ nine wins that season, they looked like the bona fide playoff team they were expected to be, standing up to a stronger club and continually knocking it down on its own home field.

By Week 12, the Browns had rebounded from a 2-4 start to win three of their next four and pull back to .500. But to keep the momentum going, they’d have to take down a tough 7-3 Saints team in the Louisiana Superdome.

True, the Saints would be playing without star running back Deuce McAllister (whom, tee-hee, the Browns passed over to take Gerard Warren in the draft a year earlier), but there was little doubt the Saints wouldn’t have much trouble with the flaky Browns.

Interestingly, a few minutes in it looked like another one of those trademark Butch Davis slopfests. Tim Couch’s third pass of the day was picked off, leading to a New Orleans field goal. But later in the first quarter, a 46-yard pass from Couch to Quincy Morgan sparked an 85-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run by William Green - who’d been invisible all season until coming alive the previous week in Cincinnati. Amazingly, for as up and down as the Browns had been - and would be - all season, it was a lead they would never relinquish.

A New Orleans field goal early in the second cut the lead to one, then the Browns cashed in on the first of four critical Saints’ mistakes that wound up making the difference. After the Saints drove to the Cleveland 13, New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks fumbled on a sack and Courtney Brown recovered, preserving the Cleveland lead.

Critical mistake No. 2 came moments later with a fumbled punt return, and the Browns cashed in with one of their most ingenious playcalls of the season. From the Saints’ 36 a play later, Couch handed off to versatile receiver Dennis Northcutt, lined up in the backfield, and Northcutt sliced through the surprised New Orleans defense for a touchdown. Sort of a Josh Cribbs appetizer.

An interception by Anthony Henry - in the middle of the finest season of his career - at the Cleveland 1 just before halftime kept the Browns’ lead at eight points, then after the Saints cut the margin to 14-12 on the first possession of the second half, the Browns answered again.

They drove to the Saints’ 24, where on third down, Couch connected with Kevin Johnson for a touchdown that stretched the lead to nine points. The Saints then made their fourth and final unforgivable error when Browns’ defensive back Earl Little spoiled another potential scoring drive with an end-zone interception.

But the Browns, being the Browns, still weren’t comfortable just taking the easy victory and heading home. A second Couch interception led to a Saints’ field goal that made it 21-15 with ten minutes left. But then, uncharacteristically, the Browns responded with one of their grittiest drives of the year. Taking over at their own 21, Green - who topped the 100-yard mark for the first time in his brief career - plowed into New Orleans territory, then a key reception by Northcutt set up a Phil Dawson field goal to give the Browns the breathing room they needed with just over three minutes to play.

Fittingly, Henry sealed the win with his second interception of the afternoon and the Browns closed out a satisfying and surprising 24-15 victory that merged them back onto the playoff-contention freeway.

More mind-boggling frustration - both in victory and defeat - would follow over the last month of the season for the ’02 Browns, but this game showed that hey, maybe the Browns could actually make the playoffs after all. And blow a 17-point lead to lose.

But that was still six weeks away. In that week before Thanksgiving ten years ago, we finally had a Browns team we could count on. Until the next Sunday, anyway.

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