American football: Johnson `miracle' catch ends Browns' blank run

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The Independent Online
MIKE DITKA, irascible head coach of the New Orleans Saints, is never a man to cross at the best of times, and these are far from being the best of times for his feeble team.

On Sunday, the Saints played the Cleveland Browns, the only team in the league without a win, and contrived to hand them an extraordinary victory. New Orleans struggled against determined opposition but took a 16-14 lead when Doug Brien kicked a 46-yard field goal with just 21 seconds remaining. It would have been a game-winner for most teams, but not for the Saints. Cleveland's quarterback, Tim Couch, hurled a desperation pass in the direction of the New Orleans end zone. The ball was tipped by a defender and fell to the Browns' receiver Kevin Johnson as time expired to give Cleveland a 21-16 win.

Johnson described the catch as a miracle, while an elated Couch, who threw three touchdown passes overall, added: "I couldn't have thrown it another yard. I put everything into it."

The St Louis Rams lost their record as the league's only unbeaten team in a 24-21 reverse against the Tennessee Titans. The Rams were 21 points adrift before the end of the first quarter, Titans' quarterback Steve McNair returning from back surgery to throw a pair of touchdown passes and running for another himself.

The Rams, who committed five fumbles and conceded 15 penalties, staged a late rally, their quarterback, Kurt Warner, throwing three more touchdowns to reduce the deficit to just three points. St Louis had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Jeff Wilkins missed a 38-yard field goal.

The Detroit Lions looked sharp in their 20-3 humbling of Tampa Bay, while the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Cincinnati Bengals 41-10, the running back Fred Taylor gaining 128 yards on 15 carries. Few problems for the New England Patriots, for whom Drew Bledsoe threw four touchdown passes in the 27-3 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The Kansas City Chiefs are looking menacing, too: revitalised under their rookie coach, Gunther Cunningham, the Chiefs hammered San Diego 34-0.

Washington's win over Chicago was every bit as comfortable as the 48- 22 scoreline suggests, although the New York Giants needed overtime to down the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Strahan racing 44 yards with an interception for the winning score.

Attention must also be paid to the improving Indianapolis Colts, who overcame a 17-3 deficit to upset Dallas 34-24.

Walter Payton, whose elusive style made him the NFL's all-time leading rusher and took Chicago to their only Super Bowl victory, died yesterday aged 45. Payton had suffered from a rare liver disease and was awaiting a transplant.