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Published September 12, 2015
They started slowly, finished sloppily and made too many mistakes in between.
The New Orleans Saints were done in by their own sins.
Two games into the season, they're winless and have no one to blame but themselves.
New Orleans couldn't get a stop down the stretch as Brian Hoyer drove the Browns 85 yards in the final three minutes to set up Billy Cundiff's 29-yard field goal with 3 seconds left, giving Cleveland a 26-24 win on Sunday in its home opener.
The Saints (0-2) have been beaten two straight weeks by last-second field goals.
"It's frustrating because we expect to win," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "You can point to one play in each of these games. We're one play in each game from being 2-0 instead of 0-2. That hurts."
Brees threw two touchdown passes to tight end Jimmy Graham and moved past Hall of Famer John Elway into fourth place on the NFL's career passing list. But the Saints couldn't overcome a terrible start.
They fell behind 16-3 during the first half when they were forced to burn two timeouts, committed silly penalties and generally looked out of sync. Brees nearly had the second snap of the game sail over his head, and the high-powered offense never fired on all cylinders.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing," Brees said. "Last year at this time, we had two really close games Week 1 and Week 2. We made that play and we started off 2-0. Unfortunately, the flip side of that is this year."
Despite their issues, the Saints were in position to win when they pinned Hoyer and Cleveland's offense back at its 4 with 2:46 left. But despite missing suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon and without injured Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron and running back Ben Tate, Hoyer marched the Browns down the field to their first win in a home opener since 2004.
Hoyer completed two passes on third down and kept the drive alive by firing a 10-yard strike over the middle to tight end Gary Barnidge on fourth down. With 15 seconds remaining, receiver Andrew Hawkins somehow got behind New Orleans defense and Hoyer lobbed him the ball down to the 11.
"We were in man coverage and they sent a motion man over," Saints coach Sean 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."
Brees went 27 of 40 for 237 yards, but was picked off by safety Tashaun Gipson and had it returned 62 yards for a touchdown.
In the second quarter, Brees connected on a 6-yard pass to Graham to surpass Elway on the career yardage list. Brees has thrown for 51,378 yards, trailing only Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino.
Graham had 10 catches for 118 yards. He'd gladly trade them all for a win.
"The NFL is a tough league to get a win in," Graham said. "It doesn't matter who you play or where you play them, you've got to be able to finish games. We've always been able to finish, but unfortunately these last two weeks, we haven't done that."
Following their overtime loss in Atlanta last week, the Saints' offense wasn't crisp, the defense gave up too many big plays, and Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had a heated discussion on the sideline in the fourth quarter.
Payton dismissed his exchange with Ryan, saying it happens "every game."
Brees finally found his rhythm — and Graham — late in the first half. Brees hooked up with his favorite 6-foot-7 target to pass Elway, and the pair connected moments later for a 9-yard TD to pull the Saints within 16-10.
Brees was under duress throughout the first half as Cleveland's defensive front harassed him into making quick throws and forcing others. On the pick, Paul Kruger hit Brees just as he released the ball, sailing it over Graham's outstretched hands and right to Gipson, who picked up some blockers and scored untouched.
It was one of those days for the Saints. Just like last week.
"We are going to bounce back," Payton promised.
NOTES: The Saints last started 0-2 in 2012, when Payton was suspended for the bounty scandal. ... WR Marques Colston did not have a reception after having five catches for 110 yards last week. ... LB David Hawthorne injured his left leg in the second half and did not return. Payton did not provide an injury update. ... New Orleans hosts Minnesota next week.
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