Six. Consecutive. Wins.
Let that sink in, because Sunday's 30-10 victory over Tampa Bay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was the Saints' sixth straight since opening the season 0-2, and it's the first time the Saints have won six straight since the 2011 season. New Orleans wasn't going to be distracted no matter what was thrown its way, including a near-brawl on Tampa Bay's sideline when Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston – sidelined with an injured shoulder at halftime – pushed Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore after a play in the third quarter. Lattimore pushed back, Bucs receiver Mike Evans ran up from behind and blindsided Lattimore; Evans earned a personal foul penalty, but not an ejection. Lattimore said he preferred it that way, because he wanted Evans on the field. It was one of many challenges that the Saints stared down, and won.
OFFENSE: The Saints were surgically efficient against the Buccaneers: 407 yards, 7-for-13 on third-down conversions, a touchdown in their only red zone attempt, 21 first downs, 31:18 in time of possession. All in all, it was a fairly clean performance that wasn't spoiled by Alvin Kamara's fumble. Why? Because Kamara more than covered for the mistake – 68 yards rushing and a touchdown on 10 carries, and a career-high 84 yards receiving and a touchdown on six catches. Drew Brees, again, was superb, completing 22 of 27 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Mark Ingram II (16 carries for 77 yards, including a 32-yard run) rebounded from his two-fumble game against Chicago and I'm not sure what else complimentary can be said, that already hasn't been said, about the offensive line. Left tackle Terron Armstead exited with a chest injury; left guard Andrus Peat again bumped out to tackle, and Josh LeRibeus came in to play left guard. At various points this season, the Saints have played without their starting left tackle, right tackle (Zach Strief) and right guard (Larry Warford) and still, the line continues to protect and open run lanes. The line has been special in that way.
DEFENSE: Speaking of special, this defense has been nothing less than that as a unit during the six-game winning streak. Subtract the two touchdowns scored by Detroit on defense and a punt return in a 52-38 Saints win, and New Orleans has allowed an average of 12.7 points in the last six games. It has surrendered a total of 22 points in the last two games, and Tampa Bay scored on a 19-yard drive that came courtesy of recovering a muffed punt in the fourth quarter. The Saints gave up 200 yards Sunday, limited Tampa Bay to 4 of 13 on third down, posted four sacks (and knocked Winston out of the game) and recovered a fumble. Cam Jordan (1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, a tackle for loss and seven total tackles) and Alex Okafor (a half-sack, two quarterback hits and six tackles) are defensive end bookends that are wreaking havoc, and safety Vonn Bell (a half-sack, two quarterback hits, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and five tackles) had his most disruptive game of the season. The unit has risen to the challenge in six consecutive games, and the confidence (rightfully) is growing.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Hardee gave life to his teammates and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd in the first quarter when he blocked a punt, recovered it and sprinted seven yards into the end zone for the Saints' first touchdown, and the first they've scored off a blocked punt since Oct. 15, 2015 (Michael Mauti, against Atlanta). But the Saints' special teams on Sunday were near calamitous. Wil Lutz's point-after attempt was blocked after Hardee's score. Ted Ginn Jr. and Drew Brees each muffed a punt; Ginn recovered his, Snead's was recovered by Tampa Bay and that led to the Bucs' 19-yard touchdown drive. And the execution on a trick-play kickoff return left a lot to be desired – Ginn fielded the kickoff, ran out of the end zone to the 5, then bounced a cross-field lateral to Tommylee Lewis from right to left. Lewis, who initially had been trying to hide in the end zone by laying down on the second "S" in "Saints" that's painted in the end zone, slipped after receiving the lateral, and quickly was tackled at the Saints' 7-yard line. The errors are glaring, but correctable. That absolutely has to happen, and soon.