NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees is in his 13th year playing for the Saints — and it’s been about that long since he’s beaten the Cleveland Browns.
Brees’ first game with New Orleans was a victory at Cleveland in 2006. The Browns have won the past two meetings in 2010 and 2014.
“Man, they’ve been tough games against these guys,” Brees recalled this week as he prepared for his latest clash with Cleveland on Sunday.
While the Saints (0-1) made the playoffs last season, they’ve opened the season with an upset loss at home to Tampa Bay. Cleveland (0-0-1) comes in with a marginally better record after its opener against Pittsburgh finished in a tie.
And Brees doesn’t want to hear about how the Browns haven’t won a game since 2016 — not after watching Cleveland’s defense produce six Steelers turnovers last weekend.
“You hate the fact they haven’t had a win for a while, because you look at their side of the ball and you’re like, ‘Man, that is a really good defense that did a lot of good things,’” Brees said.
“Forget their record. Forget last time they had a win. … Whatever they throw at us, we have to have a plan for, we have to be ready for — do all the things that equate to winning football.”
If Cleveland were to end a long winless streak in the Superdome on Sunday, it wouldn’t be the first time.
When the current incarnation of the Browns joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, they arrived in New Orleans winless through seven games and wound up celebrating their first victory after Tim Couch’s 56-yard heave as time expired found Kevin Johnson in the end zone. The lasting image for Saints fans was deflated then-coach Mike Ditka lying face-down on the turf.
For the Saints to avoid falling on their collective faces against Cleveland again, New Orleans’ defense likely will have to improve on the more than 500 yards it allowed to the Bucs in Week 1.
For new Browns QB Tyrod Taylor, the opportunity to play the Saints represents a shot at redemption. He struggled against the Saints last year while playing for Buffalo. He passed for only 56 yards without a touchdown and was intercepted before being removed from that game and benched the following week.
“Of course, I remember that game,” Taylor said. “It didn’t go as planned. So, definitely looking forward to competing against that group again.”
Some other story lines surrounding the Browns-Saints matchup:
Adding intrigue to the matchup is the return of Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to the city where he helped the Saints win a title in 2009. Williams left after 2011 and was suspended months later for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal, which also resulted in Saints coach Sean Payton’s one-year suspension.
The previous time the Saints faced one of Williams’ defenses, Payton’s offense ran up the score in a 49-21 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. But Payton now dismisses any notion of lingering animosity.
“My relationship with Gregg is great. He was part of a championship we won,” Payton said. “He has done a great job in Cleveland. … This game is more about the Saints and the Browns and finding a way to win regardless of how many points it takes.”
Brees is now 39 and in his 18th season, but showing little sign of slowing down. He passed for 439 yards and three touchdowns last week. And while the Saints lost, the offense looked good scoring 40 points.
Brees “continues to play at a really high level,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “Obviously, they have very talented players around him.”
Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who had 112 yards receiving last week, said Brees’ ability to read defenses will help against the blitz packages favored by Cleveland coordinator Williams.
“They’re a high-risk defense. They want to get pressure on the quarterback,” Kamara said. “When you do that, you’ve got to make sure you make it to the quarterback. So, with some of those looks they’re bringing, we’ve got some good things schemed up.”
The Saints’ second highest-paid player on offense is left tackle Terror Armstead, who expects to have one of his tougher assignments this season against Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. Last week, Garrett had two sacks.
“It’ll be a fun game,” Armstead said of facing Garrett, the top overall draft choice in 2017. “Size, speed, power — he possesses a lot of tools.”
While wet conditions didn’t help, Taylor’s Browns debut was a sloppy one. He went 15 for 40 passing. If he doesn’t perform better in the dome, it’ll only increase pressure on Jackson to turn to 2018 top draft choice Baker Mayfield.
The game sets up a possible matchup between a pair of former Ohio State players who thrived in Week 1.
Cleveland rookie defensive back Denzel Ward had two interceptions and could cover Saints receiver Michael Thomas, who had 16 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown against the Bucs.