A big part of the reason the Cleveland Browns were able to take down the New Orleans Saints didn't happen on the field.
It happened in the stands.
The Dawg Pound faithful packed the city streets of Cleveland as early as 5 a.m. on Sunday and their passionate echoing only intensified as the Browns home opener at FirstEnergy Stadium began at 1 p.m.
On the Saints' first three offensive possessions of the game, the team went three-and-out each time. Quarterback Drew Brees was unable to establish his offense's dangerous big play ability and the Saints did not look like themselves. Play after play, Brees would either throw an incompletion, a short pass that was snuffed out by linebacker Karlos Dansby and he even called two timeouts out of confusion from the crowd noise. The 14 yards New Orleans managed in the quarter prove that.
"So much of this game is momentum and you have to be able to stay very composed and fight through adversity at times, especially when you're on the road," said Brees after the loss. "You have to deal with certain elements, the crowd noise and that kind of thing."
Dansby was asked why the Saints were so ineffective in the first half, and he point blankly responded, "Our fans. Nobody could hear anything."
The Dawg Pound's played a role in the game deep into the fourth quarter, too. With 3:46 left in the game, Drew Brees was frantically trying to call an audible with the play clock winding down. The combination of the Browns' confusing defensive front with the crowd's thunderous roar forced New Orleans head coach Sean Payton to call a timeout from the sideline. On the next play, Dansby sacked Brees and instead of kicking a field goal, the Saints punted and eventually boarded the plane home with an 0-2 record.
"The fan base is so incredible, it's really something that I have never been a part of," said wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.
The Browns clutched the momentum from their loyal crowd and ran with it. In a gutsy move, head coach Mike Pettine decided to go for it on fourth-down and one inside the Saints' 10-yard line. Rookie running back Terrance West rumbled ahead for the first-down and on the next play Brian Hoyer tossed a touchdown pass to Miles Austin.
Pettine felt more comfortable going for seven points instead of three because he knew his defense teamed with the Dawg Pound was giving New Orleans fits.
"These fans came out, and you could just feel the energy in the stadium today," said Pettine. "It was awesome."
Something happened at half time, because the Saints did get adjusted, and did grab momentum and the lead. Had New Orleans found their offensive groove right from the opening kickoff, the narrative and outcome of the game would have been drastically different, likely with a big L sitting next to Cleveland's name.
"I think it was a total team victory," said quarterback Brian Hoyer. "I'd even give the fans some credit because they were rocking and prevented Drew Brees from doing some stuff. That was crucial. To run out of that stadium after the game, the electricity almost felt reminiscent of last year when we beat Cincinnati."
How about that win today? I LOVE MY TEAM and THE FANS HERE IN CLEVELAND. GREAT TEAM WIN TODAY.