Playing In New Orleans, Washington Has Been "The Big Easy" For Browns
By Steven King
The cities of Washington and New Orleans are known for their intense humidity. It can – and does – get miserably hot there.
Likewise, their football teams like to turn up the heat – that is, against opponents at home games. Indeed, Washington and New Orleans are traditionally very tough places to play, and the Redskins and Saints are very tough teams to play against. That’s a lethal combination for foes coming to town.
But for whatever reason, the Cleveland Browns seem to like the challenge. Through the years, they’ve performed well against the Redskins in Washington and the Saints in New Orleans.
Cleveland is 16-4-1 all-time versus Washington on the road and 8-2 in New Orleans. Those are arguably the franchise’s two best – and maybe also most impressive – road marks.
Let’s take a closer look:
New Orleans – The Browns won their first five road games against the Saints as well as the last three. OK, so maybe some of those early victories should have asterisks next to them since the Saints were an expansion team at the time trying to find their way. The first meeting, a 42-7 rout, came in 1967 – New Orleans’ second season. Cleveland won 24-10 in 1968, 27-17 in 1969 and 21-17 in 1971.
But what about those last three victories four decades later? They came in the Browns’ expansion era during which the team has really struggled.
In fact, they got their first victory, 21-16, halfway through their 1999 expansion season at New Orleans on QB Tim Couch’s 54-yard touchdown pass to WR Kevin Johnson as time expired. It caused stunned Saints coach Mike Ditka to fall flat onto his back and remain motionless, as if he were dead. He probably felt like he was, losing to a winless first-year club.
In both of the last two meetings, New Orleans was among the NFL’s best teams. And in the final one, in 2010, the Saints were coming off a Super Bowl victory. So no asterisks are needed by those games.
Cleveland’s 24-15 win in 2002 was vital in the team earning a wild-card playoff berth. The Browns were headed toward their second consecutive 5-11 finish in 2010 when they made big play after big play to bounce the defending champions 30-17. QB Drew Brees and New Orleans ran up all kinds of impressive offensive and defensive statistics, but couldn’t overcome a plethora of mistakes.
The Saints played like the Browns that day, and the Browns played like the Saints. Go figure.
The hero was LB David Bowens, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns – including a 64-yarder in the fourth quarter – to clinch the victory.
Washington – Cleveland has played 21 road games against the Redskins, or more than twice as many as it has against the Saints. So the .786 winning percentage in Washington carries more credence than the .800 mark at New Orleans.
The Browns lost just one of their first 12 meetings at Washington from 1950-61 after arriving in the NFL from the All-America Football Conference. They also won seven in a row from 1963-88 as the teams eventually moved into different conferences after the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 and didn’t each other play much.
Maybe the two biggest victories occurred in 1971 (20-13) in a matchup of playoff teams and in 1988 (17-13) when Cleveland came from behind to edge the defending Super Bowl champions.
Another team the Browns have played well on the road against is the Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers. They lead the series all-time, 18-13, but maybe the most important aspect of that record is the fact there have been some huge triumphs.
In that aforementioned 2002 playoff season, Cleveland rallied from a 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit to win 31-28 in overtime. When the franchise was still in Houston, the Browns came from behind in that game as well to triumph 24-20 in the 1989 regular-season finale to capture the AFC Central title.
In the “Kardiac Kids” season of 1980, Cleveland held off the Oilers 17-14 on CB Clarence Scott’s late interception to gain the advantage down the stretch in the division race. The teams both finished 11-5, but the Browns were awarded the Central championship on tiebreakers.
And let us point out that the Astrodome, where the Oilers played, was about as big of a home-field advantage as there was in the NFL at the time, particularly when the fans were singing that corny – and annoying – team fight song while waving those “Luv Ya, Blue” white handkerchiefs. It was loud and intimidating.