Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Newton, defense lead Panthers over Lions 24-7

Cam Newton showed he has no intention of changing the way he plays the game.
The fourth-year quarterback shook off some early rust and returned to his fearless style of play, helping Carolina defeat the Detroit Lions 24-7 on Sunday, capping a distraction-filled week for the Panthers.
In his first start since fracturing his ribs in a preseason game, Newton threw for 281 yards and a touchdown and ran for 19 yards on four carries, He helped the Panthers improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2008 and grab sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Newton shook off a slow start and completed 22 of 34 passes and overcame five sacks.
"I felt like I was getting antsy early on and that comes from a lack of playing time," Newton said. "... I was getting my feet back under me and as the game went on I started feeling more comfortable and it showed."
Wearing a thick flak jacket, it took a while for Newton to find his stride.
He scrambled from the pocket on one second-quarter run and dived headfirst instead of sliding. It was similar to the play against New England on Aug. 22 that left him with cracked ribs and sidelined him for the season opener against Tampa Bay.
Later in the fourth quarter Newton ran again, turning the corner inside the 5 and diving toward the pylon.
"He is obviously going to be sore," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "He can't help himself (and) he ran a couple of times. He did the best he could with it. The thing that I'm pleased with is once he got the rust off he settled down and made some really good decisions."
Earlier in the day Rivera made a difficult decision to deactivate Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, saying that the NFL "culture has changed" and the team needed to make the right decision. The decision came one day after the Minnesota Vikings announced they would deactivate Adrian Peterson, who was indicted on child abuse charges on Saturday,
Hardy was convicted July 15 on two counts of domestic violence and Rivera didn't think it was right to allow him to play given the events of the week.
"It was my decision and it was in the best interest of the Carolina Panthers," Rivera said.
Carolina's defense didn't seem to miss a beat.
The Panthers had three takeaways, four sacks and held the Lions scoreless in the first half one week after Matthew Stafford and company put up 35 points against the Giants. Mario Addison helped fill the void left by Hardy with 2 1/2 sacks, and cornerback Antoine Cason had 10 tackles, two forced fumbles and a recovery.
The Panthers were a plus-3 in the turnover battle for the second straight week.
"We turned the ball over too many times, particularly in scoring territory," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
The Lions (1-1) took a 7-6 lead early in the third quarter when Stafford connected on a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jed Collins, who bowled over NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly en route to the end zone.
But the lead was short-lived.
Newton bounced back, leading the Panthers on an eight-play, 72-yard drive, connecting on his first TD pass of the season, a 14-yard strike to Jason Avant on a slant route.
Thomas DeCoud tipped a deep ball from Stafford and Melvin White intercepted to set up Carolina's next score. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who struggled with dropped balls all day, hauled in a one-handed grab along the left sideline. Jonathan Stewart capped the drive with a 2-yard run and Newton threw to Jerricho Cotchery for a 2-point conversion to put Carolina up 21-7.
The Panthers put the game away in the fourth quarter when Jeremy Ross fumbled a kickoff that kicker Graham Gano recovered. Gano added his third field goal of the game for the final score.
The Lions failed to take advantage of their scoring opportunities in the first half, setting the tone for the game. Rookie Nate Freese missed two field goals, Joique Bell fumbled in Carolina territory and Johnson dropped a potential TD catch.
"When you don't take advantage of your opportunities you miss chances and turn the ball over, you're not going to have a good day," Stafford said.
NOTES: Newton apologized to Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh after the game, saying he didn't mean anything offensive earlier in the week when he referred to him as "Donkey Kong Suh." ... Caldwell said he "won't make any rash decisions" on whether to keep Freese as the kicker after his two misses. ... Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson was carted off the field with a foot injury and did not return.

Panthers 24, Lions 7: Detroit buried under own mistakes in loss to Carolina

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford went 70 passes before throwing his first interception of the season.

On the one hand, that's the longest Stafford has ever gone without a pick to start a season -- a sign that, perhaps, Jim Caldwell's teaching are taking hold.

On the other, Stafford chose a pretty bad time to make his first mistake. It came Sunday in what would become a 24-7 Detroit loss at Carolina.

Stafford forced a ball to Calvin Johnson, despite double coverage, and had it tipped into the hands of defender Melvin White. The Panthers marched the other way for another touchdown.

Suddenly, instead of facing a 13-7 deficit with 10 minutes to play, Detroit trailed 20-7. And that was too much.

The Lions suffered their first loss of the season, 24-7, and now return home -- short-handed in the secondary -- to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the first divisional game of the year next week.

Detroit (1-1) caught a break when Carolina (2-0) elected to sit star defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted in the offseason of domestic violence, and the Lions sprinted up and down the field to open the game.

The Lions outgained Carolina 126-15 in the first quarter -- yet the game remained scoreless due to a slew of mistakes. Notably, Joique Bell lost a fumble -- and nearly another -- and placekicker Nate Freese missed on a pair of 49-yard field goal attempts.

Detroit had 194 yards of offense in the first half, but did not score until Jed Collins' 1-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. That gave the Lions a 7-6 lead, but it would prove to be their only lead.

Starting Lions nickel back Nevin Lawson, playing for the injured Bill Bentley, also succumbed to injury in the third quarter and the Panthers promptly started moving the ball against Detroit's otherwise impressive defense.

The Panthers reeled off the game's final 18 points.

Detroit, meanwhile, continued to kill itself. Rashean Mathis committed pass interference in the end zone, leading to one touchdown. Jeremy Ross lost a fumble on a kick return. Ndamukong Suh had a sack wiped out by a Devin Taylor tripping penalty on the ensuing drive, and the Panthers cashed in on a 38-yard field goal.

The Lions were in a winnable road game, but made too many mistakes to overcome the short-handed Panthers.

-- Reserve defensive lineman C.J. Mosley played more snaps than normal, with Nick Fairley hampered by an unknown injury, and certainly made the most of them. Mosley sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton twice -- and celebrated both by striking Newton's patented "Superman" pose, perhaps as retribution for Newton calling Ndamukong Suh "Donkey Kong" during the week.

-- Newton is one of the league's most elusive quarterbacks, but the Lions tagged him for five sacks. Mosley was terrific, but there was a lot of pressure coming from all sides. Those guys are humming.

-- Stephen Tulloch, playing just a few miles from where he played his college ball at N.C. State, led the defense with 10 tackles. That includes three for loss, plus one of those sacks. Noble effort from the linebacker, as well as the defense, both of which played well while the offense couldn't muster much.

-- Injuries continue to mount for the Lions. They started this game with their third-stringer at right tackle, and started it with their third-stringer at nickel back (Cassius Vaughn). Nevin Lawson, playing in the place of Bill Bentley, was carted off the field with a left foot injury. With Bentley already out for the year, plus injuries to safeties Don Carey and James Ihedigbo, that secondary is stretched extremely thin heading into next week's game against ... Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Gulp.

-- Stafford wasn't great, finishing 27 of 48 passing for 291 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But his offensive line was even worse. Stafford was under duress throughout the game, and especially in the fourth quarter. Facing a 24-7 deficit late in the fourth quarter, Stafford was sacked on back-to-back plays to snuff out any hope for a comeback. On the ensuing drive, he took another. Stafford also hopped a few times coming off the field, indicating he'll be sore coming out of this one.

-- Bell lost one fumble, and nearly lost another that was instead ruled an incomplete pass. He also lost a fumble last week -- though that one was recovered by Detroit -- and really needs to improve his ball security. He's been the Lions' best threat on the ground, with Reggie Bush spinning his wheels to open the season, but won't be used if he can't be trusted to hang onto the ball.

-- Garrett Reynolds, signed four days ago, started at right tackle for the injured LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard. He appeared to get nicked up himself on the first series of the game. He was replaced at the start of the fourth quarter, though it's unclear whether that was injury or performance based.

-- Calvin Johnson caught a pass for the 108th straight game, breaking Herman Moore's team record of 107. He also became the sixth player in NFL history to register 9,500 receiving yards through his first eight seasons -- and has 14 games to add to that feat.

-- Starting corner Darius Slay, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and receiver Golden Tate all left with injury scares before returning. Slay and Tate returned to their posts full time, though C.J. Mosely appeared to shoulder more of the load up front for Fairley.

-- Linebacker Travis Lewis crumpled to the ground after a punt in the fourth quarter. He did not put much weight on his right leg as he was assisted off the field. He did not return.

Bengals shake of AJ Green's injury to defeat Falcons

FIRST QUARTER – Bengals 3, Falcons 3

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Bengals drove into the Falcons red zone on both of their possessions in the quarter. The first drive covered 69 yards in 13 plays and led to Mike Nugent's 31-yard field goal.

The second drive was sparked by a 50-yard completion from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to wide receiver Brandon Tate. Sanu made a perfect throw deep down the right sideline and Tate did a nice job to keep his feet inbounds.

The Bengals had 118 yards in the quarter (78 passing and 40 rushing) and held the Falcons to just 53, including 18 yards passing.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A.J. Green suffered a toe injury on the opening series that knocked him out of the game.

The Bengals also continued to struggle in the red zone. After going 0 for 2 in last week's win at Baltimore they had to settle for Nugent's 31-yard field goal, then drove into the red zone on their second and final drive of the quarter, which eventually ended with a missed field goal attempt on the second play of the second quarter.

Doc: Bengals may be even better than we've seen so far

KEY STAT: Sanu's passing line: 1 for 1 for 50 yards and a rating of 118.8.

TURNING POINT MOMENT: Green's injury. With him going out it means the Bengals were without two receivers in him and Marvin Jones who combined to have 149 receptions for 2,138 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.

DID YOU NOTICE?: Just how far and how well Sanu threw the pass to Tate. He was a good eight yards or so behind the line of scrimmage and threw a rope to Tate that was right on the money.

Bengals shake off injuries, down Falcons for 2-0 start

QUOTE: Sanu on his pass to Tate: "I just threw it up where he could go get it and he made a play on the ball. You just have to have that confidence in yourself, that when your number's called to make that throw."

SECOND QUARTER – Bengals 10, Falcons 3

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Just about everything other than finishing drives with points.

The Bengals outgained the Falcons in the quarter, 175-45, and they forced the Falcons to punt all three times they had the football in the quarter.

Running back Giovani Bernard accounted for 90 yards in the quarter (70 receiving and 26 rushing, including his four-yard TD run).

WHAT WENT WRONG: The Bengals couldn't finish drives with points. Nugent missed all three field goals he attempted in the quarter, from 38, 49 and 55 yards out.

They also didn't manage the clock very well on their final drive before the half as a running play by Bernard took the clock from 32 seconds down to 10 before their next snap. They barely got a timeout with one second left in the half following an Andy Dalton to Jermaine Gresham pass completion to allow Nugent to attempt the 55-yard field goal.

KEY STAT: Bernard and Hill accounted for all 91 yards on the Bengals touchdown drive. Bernard rushed seven times for 23 yards and had one reception for 46 yards, while Hill rushed twice for 22 yards.

TURNING POINT MOMENT: With pressure coming all around him Dalton dumped off a safety valve pass at about the line of scrimmage to Bernard, who cut to his right and raced 46 yards to the Falcons 30. The Bengals scored a touchdown five plays later.

DID YOU NOTICE?: Bernard clearly stepped out of bounds on his 46-yard catch and run at about the Falcons 45, but the Falcons chose not to challenge it and the Bengals quickly got to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball before Atlanta could consider doing it.

QUOTE: Bernard explaining how Dalton dumped the ball to him at the last second, which Bernard turned into a 46-yard game: "Me and Andy just have this thing when I hear my name called by him. He yelled out Gio and I just opened my eyes. I saw a blitzer coming, picked the guy up and then he kind of fell to the ground and Andy was kind of looking to get out of it." And Bernard could hear Dalton yell his name? "It's weird, I guess it's a quarterback/running back kind of relationship thing you kind of develop."

THIRD QUARTER – Bengals 24, Falcons 3

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Bengals put their boot to the proverbial throat of the Falcons. Andy Dalton made a phenomenal throw with Jonathan Babinueax right in his face on an all-out blitz to Mohamed Sanu in one-on-one coverage and went 76 yards for a touchdown. Following a Leon Hall interception, Cincinnati went the other way for another touchdown off the turnover.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Not much. The defense held Atlanta to a three-and-out then picked off a pass on the next two drives. The biggest concern in the third quarter was linebacker Vontaze Burfict being diagnosed with a stinger and coming out for the game. Combined with his concussion suffered last week, that's a concerning combination for the league's leading tackler from 2013.

KEY STAT: The 76-yard touchdown reception by Sanu was the longest of his career by a long shot. Sanu's previous career long catch was 34 yards.

TURNING POINT MOMENT: With an opportunity to post a three-possession advantage at the 10-yard-line the Bengals handed the ball to rookie Jeremy Hill three times and he eventually pounded his first career touchdown in from the 1-yard line behind fullback Domata Peko putting Cincinnati ahead 24-3.

DID YOU NOTICE? Midway through the quarter Devon Still made a tackle and had his name announced for the first time in the game. The crowd offered a rousing standing ovation at the sound of his name. Still's story went viral this week as he was promoted to the 53-man roster while his four-year-old daughter battles cancer and saw his jersey sales explode with proceeds going to cancer research.

QUOTE: Jeremy Hill on his first career touchdown and subsequent touchdown dance: "It felt awesome, man. That's something I dreamed about my whole entire life. I definitely had fun with it. You never know when you are going to get back in there so I tried to have a little fun, do a dance, make the fans happy."

FOURTH QUARTER – Bengals 24, Falcons 10

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Bengals didn't make any mistakes that allowed the Falcons to make the game interesting. Dalton only threw three passes against 10 rushes. The Bengals weren't particularly effective with the run, but good enough to pick up a couple first downs that let them split the time of possession in the quarter.

WHAT WENT WRONG: For the first time all game, Cincinnati's defense allowed Matt Ryan to find a rhythm and drive for the only Falcons touchdown of the game. Julio Jones racked up 57 of his 88 yards in the garbage time quarter.

KEY STAT: The Falcons weren't given short fields to attempt a comeback. Their average drive start in the final quarter was their own 9-yard line.

TURNING POINT MOMENT: Following the Falcons first touchdown of the game and a three-and-out, Kevin Huber was able to pin Atlanta at the 1-yard line and the defense didn't allow them out of the shadows of their own goal posts.

DID YOU NOTICE?: After about every other play there was some form of pushing and shoving. Andre Smith twice ended up in the middle of it, once ending up with his helmet off. Reggie Reggie Nelson and Eric Weems exchanged pushes, shoves and words. Roddy White was hit with a personal foul for extra curriculars. Atlanta's Lamar Holmes was hit with a personal foul for taking a shot at Carlos Dunlap after he didn't like his hit on Matt Ryan. Much of it began after Shawn Williams delivered a hit on an onside kick attempt that was cut off by a Bengals timeout.

QUOTE: Atlanta coach Mike Smith on his team's personal fouls, fighting: "You can't be frustrated in this game. This is a game in which you've got to cut it loose, but you've got to play within the game. We just did not do the things that we needed to do., and that's something that will be addressed. We cannot have positive plays taken back because of personal foul penalties. The game's chippy, whatever, you've got to turn your ears off."

Bengals lose A.J. Green, but beat Falcons 24-10

Without receiver A.J. Green on the field to make a big play, Andy Dalton called out to his running back whenever he was in a bind.

Somehow in all the commotion, Giovani Bernard heard his name and looked for the ball.

The second-year running back picked up a depleted offense by running for 90 yards and turning Dalton's under-duress passes into big plays on Sunday, leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

"He yelled out, `Gio!' and I just opened my eyes," Bernard said. "It's weird. I guess it's a quarterback-running back relationship kind of thing."

All around the field, the Bengals have a good thing going right now.

They won their home opener and improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2006 despite losing several key players to injury, most notably Green.

The Pro Bowl receiver aggravated an injured toe on his right foot, which kept him out of practice last week. He left during the opening series and didn't catch a pass for the first time in his four-year career.

Cincinnati still put up some impressive numbers against the Falcons (1-1), who gave up nearly 500 yards for the second straight game.

"To be able to step up like that just shows the number of receivers we have," said Mohamed Sanu, who caught three passes for a team-high 84 yards and also threw a 50-yard pass.

The centerpiece was Bernard, who ran 27 times for 90 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown. He also caught a team-high five passes for a career-high 79 yards, including a 46-yard catch-and-run when Dalton flipped the ball to him as he was getting hit.

The Bengals wound up with 472 yards and averaged 6.8 yards per play. Rookie Jeremy Hill ran for 74 yards and a touchdown, and the Bengals rushed for 170 overall.

"We got what we needed to have," Dalton said. "I think the offense was really balanced. Once we got the lead, we could focus on running the ball and eating up the clock."

Cincinnati's biggest challenge was to shut down Matt Ryan, coming off the best game of his career. Ryan threw for a club-record 448 yards and three touchdowns in an opening 37-34 overtime win over the Saints.

The Bengals' blitzing defense got to him. Ryan was 24 of 44 for 231 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, one of which set up Hill's 1-yard touchdown run for a 24-3 lead in the third quarter.

Nothing new about the Bengals holding down a top passer. Last season, they got the best of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger on their way to the AFC North title.

"At the half, we knew we were right in the game," Ryan said. "But when you turn the ball over three times, you're not going to win. I have to be better. That's the way it goes sometimes."

Dalton was solid again, completing 15 of 23 for 252 yards without a sack or interception for the second straight game.

Dalton hit Sanu on a quick slant against an all-out blitz during the third quarter, and the receiver turned it into an easy 76-yard touchdown when cornerback Robert Alford dived in front to try to knock down the ball and missed.

Sanu also completed a 50-yard pass off a pitch out from Dalton during the Bengals' wasteful first half. They piled up 293 yards, but managed only 10 points. Mike Nugent missed field goal attempts of 38, 49 and 55 yards.

Cincinnati's depth was tested as several important starters went down, starting with Green's foot injury.

Already missing tight end Tyler Eifert, the Bengals lost tight end Alex Smith to an injured left biceps in the first half. Right guard Kevin Zeitler hurt his right calf in the first half and didn't return.

Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict left in the second half with a pinched nerve in his neck after taking a teammate's knee to the helmet. Burfict suffered a concussion in a season-opening win at Baltimore and missed practice during the week.

Notes: The Falcons had only one lineup change. Gabe Carimi started at left tackle for rookie Jake Matthews, who has a sprained ankle. ... The Bengals matched the club record with their 10th straight home victory in the regular season. They lost at home to San Diego in the playoffs last season. ... Sanu is 3 for 3 for 148 yards as a passer in his three seasons. He completed a 73-yard TD pass as a rookie, and had a 25-yard completion last season. He's the first player since New England's David Patten in 2001 to have a pass of at least 50 yards and a touchdown catch of at least 75 yards in the same game, according to STATS.

Cleveland Browns befuddle New Orleans Saints defense on game-winning drive

It was a long Sunday for the New Orleans Saints' defense.

It was a particularly long day for cornerback Patrick Robinson.

On the heels of the Saints' 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Robinson was speaking quietly to a reporter in the locker room. When he looked up and saw a crowd forming, he shook his head.

"Man, I'm done," he said, after speaking less than a minute. Then he walked out of the locker room and down the hallway by himself.

It was that kind of day.

Robinson entered the game as a starting cornerback. By the end of the first quarter, after being flagged twice and giving up a touchdown to Miles Austin, he was yanked in favor of Corey White and then reinserted at nickel back, where he played the rest of the day.

However, Robinson's play stood out after collecting two of the Saints' five penalties in crucial situations.

Robinson was flagged for pass interference on a third-and-7 play in the first quarter that fell incomplete. The Browns, who were on the Saints' 33-yard line, were awarded a first down on New Orleans' 14. They scored five plays later to go up 7-0.

Robinson later was flagged in the quarter for a neutral-zone infraction on a missed field-goal attempt by the Browns. The Browns again were awarded a first down and made a field goal four plays later for a 10-0 lead.

Robinson also had a holding penalty that was declined on a busted play with 13 seconds left that set up the final margin of the Browns' victory.

Saints coach Sean Payton declined to discuss personnel changes so soon after the game. But he did say that Robinson was an easy target in a game where a lot of things went wrong.

"There's a lot of muddy hands to just single out one player, but I know that's what you do," Payton said. "He's going to work to improve, and we're going to look at it overall, how we can help not just him, but the rest of the guys."

For the second straight week, Saints defenders were at a loss to explain exactly what happened. Last week, they gave up 568 yards to the Atlanta Falcons after missing a slew of tackles.

This time around the missed tackles were almost nonexistent. Brian Hoyer passed for only 204 yards. Junior Galette had his first sack of the season after the Saints were unable to generate much pressure against the Falcons.

It was a whole new set of problems against the Browns, particularly after a final sequence that left defenders scratching their heads.

"We're trying to figure that out right now," said White when asked what happened. "We're going to watch some film and figure it out from there. I don't know."

The Saints held a 24-23 lead with 2:26 left to go and the Browns pinned at their own 4-yard line. One stop, and New Orleans would win the game.

It was similar situation to the Saints' loss at the Falcons last week, when they needed to keep Atlanta out of field-goal range to win. But a 21-yard pass to Devin Hester put the Falcons in field-goal range in one play, and they eventually won in overtime.

Facing almost the same scenario, things went downhill quickly in Cleveland.

On second-and-10 at the 4, Kenny Vaccaro was flagged for being offsides.

On third-and-1 at the 13, Austin, covered by White, caught a 4-yard pass for a first down. Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan were arguing on the sideline after the play. Payton said that type of heated discussion wasn't unusual during a game.

The Saints were aided by Galette's sack on second-and-10 and had the Browns facing fourth-and-6 on their own 38-yard line.

However, Hoyer completed a 13-yard pass to Austin that was made just inbounds and was upheld after review. Two plays later, on the play that set up the field goal, the Saints' defenders appeared to be confused about their assignments.

With the clock at 13 seconds, Robinson and Jairus Byrd both ran to the middle of the field toward wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who spun past Robinson and kept going. White and Keenan Lewis were both running toward receiver Marlon Moore on the outside. Andrew Hawkins was left deep behind the defense by himself.

"Honestly, I think it was a dropped coverage by New Orleans and Brian did a great job of reading it," Hawkins said.

"On the coverage it was (miscommunication). We were in man coverage and they sent a motion man over," Payton said. "We ended up with a holding call on the play that they declined, but again, it's little things like that that are troubling."

The little mistakes were the phrase of the day after the loss. But Vaccaro was optimistic about the overall play of the Saints' defense.

"We're frustrated but at the same time, I felt everyone was playing really hard, getting to the ball," he said. "I felt like everybody tackled better, there were hardly any missed tackles. ...

"I don't know man. I'm still optimistic. You can't get down. We've still got 14 games to go. We'll get it fixed and get ready for the Vikings. ... I think guys are down, but we played well. We'll get it fixed."

New Orleans Saints fall to 0-2 after losing at Browns, 26-24, on late field goal

The Cleveland Browns mounted a furious 85-yard drive to stun the New Orleans Saints 26-24 on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Browns (1-1) broke an eight-game losing streak in home openers, while the Saints (0-2) lost their first two games for the first time since the 2012 "bounty" season in which coach Sean Payton was suspended.

The Saints forced the Browns to start their last drive from their own 4-yard line with less than three minutes to play, but quarterback Brian Hoyer led a 14-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

The start of the drive was aided by a Saints offsides penalty. Junior Galette recorded a sack, the Saints' first of the game, forcing a fourth-and-6 that Hoyer converted.

The Browns dominated the first quarter and forced a critical turnover in the second, although the Saints ultimately won most statistical categories.

The Saints were plagued by poor field position and went three-and-out on their first two drives. Meanwhile, Hoyer took advantage of the Saints' shaky secondary play to give the Browns to a 10-0 lead.

The Saints finally got moving in the second quarter on a seven-play, 73-yard drive in the second quarter that ended with a 27-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.

The only turnover of the game was a costly one. Saints quarterback Drew Brees missed tight end Jimmy Graham on a route over the middle. Tashaun Gipson intercepted the pass and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown to give the Browns a 16-3 lead. But the extra point failed when the Browns mishandled the snap.

The Saints scored a critical touchdown before halftime to close the gap. Brees capped a 13-play, 85-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham.

The Saints turned to the running game amid the passing game's early struggles and kept at it in the second half. In the Saints' go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter, Mark Ingram ran four times for 36 yards, including runs of 13 and 15. Ingram had 11 carries for 83 yards on the game.

The Browns answered back in the third quarter with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a 9-yard touchdown by Terrance West. Starting in place of the injured Ben Tate, West carried 19 times for 68 yards on Sunday.

The Saints took the lead again with 12:12 left in the game when Mark Ingram rumbled in from 1 yard out.

Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel made his debut in the third quarter, handing off twice and throwing an incomplete pass.

In the second quarter, Brees passed John Elway for fourth on the NFL's all-time passing list.

The Browns now have beat the Saints in four of the last five meetings. The lone exception was in 2006, the first Saints' game for Brees and Payton.

The Saints are now 1-24 under Payton when trailing on the road at halftime.