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Saints 21, Browns 18: The breakdown — thumbs up, thumbs down, the matchups

THUMBS UP

Michael Thomas, Saints receiver

He got the best of friend and former Ohio State teammate Denzel Ward.

Thomas caught 2- and 5-yard touchdowns in the fourth quarter to lead New Orleans’ comeback. The second came in the right corner of the end zone with Ward, the rookie No. 4 pick, in coverage. Free safety Damarious Randall didn’t make it over in time to help.

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“We had him double-covered,” coach Hue Jackson said. “He made a helluva play. (Ward will) learn and grow from that. Just being on top and trying to high point the ball himself as the receiver’s trying to do that. I think sometimes the ball is coming down and he’s trying to get it out, as opposed to being at the height of the ball when those things happen.”

Thomas had a game-high 12 catches in 13 targets for 89 yards and the two scores. He set an NFL record with 28 catches in the first two games of the season.

THUMBS DOWN

Zane Gonzalez, Browns kicker

Three-point loss. Four missed kicks.

“It’s tough, man,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “Anybody can be in that situation, and it’s unfortunate. He’s beating himself up more than anybody. We’re going to try to pick him up.”

Gonzalez missed two extra points and field goals from 44 and 52 yards. The latter would’ve sent the game into overtime.

Teams don’t have long leashes with kickers, and the Browns could make a quick change.

“We will address all of that once we get in (the office) tomorrow,” Jackson said.

PLAY OF THE GAME

The Browns were clinging to a 12-10 lead with 5:10 left and faced second-and-4 from their 30-yard line. Tyrod Taylor was pressured slightly, moved right, then fired over the middle for tight end David Njoku. Safety Marcus Williams stepped in front and returned the interception 22 yards to the 18.

The Saints scored four plays later, converted the 2-point conversion and had their first lead, 18-12.

“Never can throw late down the middle,” Taylor said. “It’s something I have to be better at. That definitely was not a good point in the game. We’re up 12-10, we have control of the game, so can’t put the team in that situation.

“Turnovers definitely kill a team’s morale. We were able to battle back from that but interceptions, I have to be better than that.”

Taylor recovered to throw a tying 47-yard touchdown to Antonio Callaway.

STAT OF THE GAME

1,008

Days since the Browns won on a Sunday — Dec. 13, 2015, against the 49ers. The count will reach at least 1,021 because the Browns play Thursday night.

QUOTE OF THE GAME

“We’ve got another game right around the corner so we don’t get to lick our wounds for very long. We’ve got to move on from this.” — Coach Hue Jackson on the 21-18 loss and the upcoming Thursday night matchup against the Jets.


MATCHUPS

Offense

Tyrod Taylor rebounded from a late interception to give the Browns a chance to win. Antonio Callaway’s first NFL touchdown was huge. The pass protection was much improved.

Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara made enough plays to save the day for the Saints.

Edge: Even

Defense

Gregg Williams’ unit made him proud in his return to New Orleans. The Browns limited Drew Brees to 243 yards passing and the Saints to 3-for-12 on third down.

Marcus Williams had a big interception, but the Saints best defense was watching Zane Gonzalez miss kicks.

Edge: Browns

Special teams

Gonzalez missed four kicks. Enough said.

Wil Lutz hit the winner from 44 yards with 21 seconds left.

Edge: Saints

Coaching

The conservative, ball-control game plan was the right call, giving the Browns the best chance to win. Hue Jackson might’ve gotten too conservative at the end of the first half when he didn’t use any of his timeouts.

New Orleans’ Sean Payton knows where to go with the ball — Thomas and Kamara.

Edge: Even

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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