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Hail Mary Gives Browns 1st Win


With time running out on what looked like their eighth straight loss, the Cleveland Browns were desperate. They were also armed.

The combination added up to the first victory for the first-year expansion team and a shocking sixth straight loss for the New Orleans Saints.

Tim Couch, who already had a pair of scoring passes, completed a desperation 56-yard touchdown to Kevin Johnson with no time on the clock Sunday for a 21-16 victory.

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  • "I couldn't have thrown it another yard," Couch said. "I put everything I could into it and threw it as high as I could. It's a neat way to get your first one."

    The entire Cleveland team raced on the field to celebrate the unlikely win, with Couch pumping both fists and slapping hands with fans. The dejected Saints (1-6) could only walk off the field after losing a fourth-quarter lead for the fifth time this season.

    "There's no use sitting back thinking about how horrible things are," Saints running back Ricky Williams said. "You've got to try to bounce out."

    The Browns (1-7) got a chance after New Orleans mismanaged the clock, calling a timeout with 29 seconds left rather than letting time run down. Doug Brien's 46-yard field goal with 21 seconds left put the Saints up 16-14.

    But Couch, who completed 11 of 19 passes for 193 yards, drove the Browns 75 yards on three plays, hitting Johnson in the corner of the end zone despite a swarm of Saints defenders around him.

    "I batted it down and it bounced off someone's head and he caught it," Saints cornerback Fred Weary said. "You can't do anything about that. They made a lucky play bottom line."

    The Browns practice the play every week. It didn't go the way they planned, however. Johnson said he's supposed to tip the ball, not catch it. But thanks to the big screen in the Superdome end zone that shows live action, Johnson made the play.

    "I was watching the screen and I noticed Tim let he ball go," Johnson said. "I wasn't in position to catch the ball. I was at the 10-yard line, so I ran into the end zone and got myself into position. Those guys tipped it right into my hands. It was like a miracle."

    It was the second week in a row a desperation pass worked against New Orleans. The New York Giants completed a 53-yarder against the Saints as the half ran out last week.

    The Browns, who have led at halftime in three games and carried leads into the fourth quarter against Jacksonville and Cincinnati, were up 14-13 going into the fourth quarter against New Orleans. An opportunity to stretch the lead failed as Phil Dawson's 46-yard field-goal attempts fell short early in the fourth quarter.

    Saints coach Mike Ditka took over the play-calling for New Orleans against the Browns, unhappy with game plans that he felt strayed from his desire to pound the football with Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner he gave up eight draft picks to get.

    The scheme was quickly apparent. Williams who had his second 100-yard day as a pro, rushing for 179 yards on 40 carries carried the football for 11 of the Saints 17 first-quarter plays, and 22 of 47 in the first half. He also fumbled the ball away twice to keep the Browns in the game.

    The Saints' special teams provided the game's first break. David Dunn caught a punt on the Browns 15, only to have Saints linebacker Vinson Smith immediately level him, knocking the football loose. Rob Kelly grabbed the fumble, and four plays later Billy Joe Hobert hit Keith Poole for a 5-yard touchdown and a 7-0 first-quarter lead.

    The hit sidelined Dunn for the rest of the game with a mild concussion.

    In the second quarter, Cleveland tied the game after defensive end Roy Barker intercepted a pass from Hobert and returned it to the New Orleans 22. Fullback Marc Edwards outjumped Saints cornerback Alex Molden to catch a 27-yard touchdown pass, making it 7-7.

    Hobert, who made his first start since Oct. 10, re-injured a bruised nerve in his neck trying to make a tacklafter the interception and left the game. Billy Joe Tolliver replaced him, completing 9 of 20 passes for 92 yards. Tolliver and Hobert were each intercepted once.

    Brien, who missed a 47-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, kicked a 49-yarder on third-and-3 with 13 seconds left in the half to give New Orleans a 10-7 lead at the break.

    Cleveland went up 14-10 in the third quarter as Couch hit Johnson for a 24-yard score. Brien's 22-yarder in the fourth quarter cut Cleveland's lead to 14-13.

    Notes

  • With their loss to the Browns, the Saints' overall record fell to 190-294-5. Based on a 16-game season, that means the Saints need to average 10 wins a year for the next 26 years to reach .500.
  • Williams has 582 yards for the year, giving him 125 yards more than last year's leading rusher, Lamar Smith, had all season
  • Entering the game, Cleveland had 33 penalties in seven games, the fewest in the AFC. They got eight against the Saints
  • Saints WR Keith Poole entered the game with a 23.2 yards per reception, the highest in the NFL. He averaged 7.7 on three catches against Cleveland.

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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