The New Orleans Saints had a few standout performances in Sunday's 21-18 victory over Cleveland in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The overall showing wasn't pristine, but they were able to hang on thanks to some key contributions.
OFFENSE: Through the first two games of the season, Michael Thomas has been the best receiver in the league. Twelve catches, for 89 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns – both touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the second of which gave the Saints an 18-12 lead – bring his season totals to 28 catches (most in league history in the first two games of the regular season) for 269 yards and three touchdowns. On the lead-taking score, a 5-yarder with 2:40 left, Drew Brees said the secondary was shaded toward Thomas but that he saw a spot where he could throw the ball and only Thomas would have a shot at it. Thomas beat two defenders on the play. I know, I know: He lost a fumble against the Browns, his second lost fumble in as many games. Each has been costly. But if two fourth-quarter touchdowns don't atone for that, I'm not sure what does.
DEFENSE: Marcus Williams arguably was the Saints' best player during training camp. Sunday, he provided one of the reasons why almost everyone thought so. His fourth-quarter interception, the Saints' first forced turnover of the season, and 22-yard return came with the Saints trailing 12-10 and needing to produce a defensive stop. New Orleans produced an 18-yard touchdown drive from the great field position, and Williams did to Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor what he'd done to his teammates for much of July and August. It's hard to bypass Cam Jordan; the All-Pro defensive end had two sacks, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and two tackles. But Williams came up huge when the Saints needed him to, floating through the traffic while reading Taylor's eyes and picking him off.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The easy route would be to honor kicker Wil Lutz. He bounced back from a missed 44-yard field-goal attempt in the first half to bang the 44-yard game-winner with 21 seconds left. His confidence is as much of an asset as his leg. Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez also might fit into this category for the Saints; he missed all four of his kicks – two point-after attempts and two field goal attempts – in the second half. But Saints backup quarterback Taysom Hill keeps doing head-turning stuff as the Saints look for more and more ways to utilize his gifts. We've seen him line up at quarterback in short-yardage situations, make tackles on kickoff and punt returns, hold for PATs and field goals. Sunday, for the first time, we saw him return a kickoff and after lighting a fire with his 47-yard return in the third quarter, there's no reason to think he shouldn't be a regular.