NEW ORLEANS - What a kickin' weekend that was.
Less than 24 hours after No. 12 LSU upset No. 7 Auburn, 22-21, on a 42-yard field goal by Cole Tracy as time expired Saturday night, the New Orleans Saints beat Cleveland, 21-18, on a 44-yard field goal by Wil Lutz with 21 seconds to play.
The Saints (1-0) trailed Cleveland, which was smelling its first regular season win since 2016 after an 0-16 season in 2017 and a tie last week, by 12-3 after three quarters and looked sorry in the process.
New Orleans drew within 12-10 with 8:41 to play in the game when quarterback Drew Brees hit wide receiver Michael Thomas on a 2-yard touchdown pass after driving 66 yards in nine plays.
Then New Orleans safety Marcus Williams, whose missed tackle allowed Minnesota to beat the Saints 29-24 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs last season, intercepted quarterback Tyrod Taylor at the Browns' 40-yard line and returned it 22 yards to the 18. That set up a Brees 5-yard touchdown pass to Thomas for a 16-12 lead with 2:40 to go that became 18-12 when running back Alvin Kamara stepped in for the two-point conversion.
But Cleveland, which last won a regular season game on Dec. 24, 2016 over San Diego before finishing 1-15, was not dead yet. On fourth and five from the New Orleans 47-yard line with 1:24 to go, Taylor found wide receiver Antonio Callaway for a 47-yard touchdown pass to tie it 18-18 with 1:16 left.
But Zane Gonzales missed his second extra point of the game to keep it tied 18-18.
The Saints took over, and Brees hit wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. for 42 yards to the Cleveland 25-yard line to set up the Lutz 44-yard field goal for the 21-18 win.
"That was a big kick he hit," Saints coach Sean Payton said of Lutz. "And a couple of big kicks their guy didn't hit."
Cleveland led 6-3 on two Gonzales field goals at halftime and took a 12-3 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Carlos Hyde with 6:43 to go in the third quarter. But Gonzales missed the extra point.
The Saints were fighting the Browns and their own history. New Orleans was the first team in history to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 11, 1977. The Bucs, who beat the Saints in the opener last week, came into the dome 41 years ago at 0-12 on the season after an 0-14 inaugural season in 1976. And the Bucs beat the Saints, 33-14. New Orleans finished that year 3-11, and Coach Hank Stram was fired.
Cleveland tied Pittsburgh, 21-21, last week in its opener to go to 0-16-1 entering New Orleans.
Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, New Orleans reached a first and goal at the Cleveland 2-yard line, but failed to reach the end zone and settled for a 31-yard field goal by Lutz for a 3-3 tie with 2:47 to go in the opening period.
On third and goal from the 2, Brees had hit Kamara for a touchdown, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty on wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith that pushed New Orleans back 10 yards to the 12. And Lutz came on.
The Saints drove deep into Cleveland territory again in the second quarter, but on third down, Brees was sacked for an 11-yard loss to the 27-yard line. Then Lutz missed a 44-yard field goal.
Cleveland took a 3-0 lead on a 39-yard field goal by Gonzales with 8:29 to go in the first quarter. The score was set up by Thomas' fumble at the Saints' 46-yard line following an 8-yard reception. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell caused the fumble and recovered it.
The Browns made it 6-3 on another 39-yard field goal by Gonzales with 1:55 to go before halftime after a 45-yard drive in seven plays.
The Saints had the Browns outgained at halftime by 134 yards to 106. Brees was 15 of 19 for 124 yards in the first half.
Running back Mike Gillislee, who the Saints picked up from New England just before the season, led New Orleans in rushing with just 13 yards on four carries as the Saints struggled on offense until very late. Brees finished 28 of 35 for 243 yards and two touchdowns, while Taylor completed 22 of 30 for 246 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm encouraged we won," Payton said. "But let's not kid ourselves."
The Saints play at Atlanta next Sunday, then travel to meet the New York Giants before hosting Washingon on Monday Night Football on Oct. 8.
"We've got a lot to do to improve," Payton said.