Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
More takeaways from Browns practice and interviews …
Come get some: Gregg Williams was Sean Payton’s defensive coordinator when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl following the 2009 season.
They had three great years together, winning 37of 48 regular-season games, two NFC South division championships and one Super Bowl.
But their parting was messy. Payton did not renew Williams’ contract after 2011. And then Bountygate, the pay-for-injury scandal allegedly ran by Williams and approved of and covered up by Payton, was even uglier.
Both were suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell for the 2012 season. That resulted in millions of dollars forfeited by both men that they never recovered.
Sunday’s game in Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be the second meeting of Williams and Payton since the scandal.
After his suspension, Williams moved on as Jeff Fisher’s defensive coordinator with the Rams. They met Payton’s Saints in the Superdome in a 2016 game.
Payton held the upper hand, rolling up a season-high 555 offensive yards in a 49- 21 trouncing of the Rams. It was the Saints’ biggest output in a 7-9 season. Reporting of the game referred to Payton “delighting” in pouring it on against Williams. Payton called a wide receiver option pass with a 42-21 lead that added a final touchdown.
When I asked Payton on a conference call interview to describe his relationship with Williams, he feigned a chuckle.
“It sounds like a juicy question. There was a bunch of softballs and all of a sudden here it comes,” Payton said.
“Listen, my relationship with Gregg is great. He was part of a championship we won one year. He has done a great job in Cleveland. You can see his defense made six takeaways last week. You see that on tape. You see the way they are playing with confidence.
“I think this game is more about the Saints and the Browns and finding a way to win regardless of how many points it takes. They are a team we do not get to see often obviously being in the AFC, and we are going to focus on all of the things that can come up in a game, but there is a lot you have to prepare for.
“Gregg has done a great job with creating different pressure looks. Also, they are very disciplined in their zone looks so that is what I would say.”
There are those in New Orleans who remember Payton speaking similarly about Williams prior to the 2016 meeting, only to lower the boom on him during and after that game.
The last time Williams was asked about the scandal was his introductory press conference in January of 2017.
“We’re not here to talk about that,” Williams said then.
Williams’ next regular meeting with media is Friday.
All class: In 30-plus years covering the NFL, I’ve found that the all-time best mid-week conference call interviews invariably have been delivered by Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks on the back nine of their careers.
Brett Favre and Peyton Manning are two who stand out as willing to not only give their time to these tedious exercises, but also to be insightful, candid and reflective. We can now include Saints quarterback Drew Brees in that class.
In his roughly 10-minute chat with Cleveland media, Brees expressed admiration for Browns’ rookie Baker Mayfield, modestly saying that Mayfield “can be a lot better than me”; attributed former Chargers and Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer as having one of the big influences on his career and life; and said he is taking his career one year at a time and doesn’t know how much longer he’ll play.
Brees was at his best explaining how he has been able to succeed in the big man’s world of the NFL while barely exceeding six feet tall.
“First of all, I do not know any other way. I do not know what it is like to be 6-5 because I will never be 6-5,” Brees said.
“I will say it like this, if one of you closed your eyes, all of your other senses would be heightened, right? Your sense of smell. Your sense of hearing. All of that other stuff. Maybe because I am 6-0, that maybe there are certain things that I can’t see as well, but for that reason, maybe I can hear it and see it better because that is what I have had to do for my whole career. You find a way. You make up for it. You just get it done.”
Garrett also had a second sack of Roethlisberger and a pass defense. He was assessed three penalties, but the NFL later said a roughing call on Garrett that resulted in a Pittsburgh touchdown, rather than a field-goal attempt, was a mistake.
What did Gordon think of Garrett’s game?
“He met my expectations. Definitely did,” Gordon said. “And I think he met his as well, and I think he knows he can take it up another level. We look towards guys like that on this team in a starting position to be big game-chargers for us and game-breakers.”
Defensive lineman Chris Smith said of Garrett’s game, “Amazing. Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. We were down, 21-7, and Coach said we need someone to get the ball out, and next thing you know ‘boom.’”