Linebacker Chase Hansen said he learned Saturday in Cleveland that the New Orleans Saints are as mentally tough as a team comes.
The Saints (6-9) posted a 17-10 victory over the Browns at First-Energy Stadium that kept alive their playoff hopes. In order to win the NFC South Division and claim a spot in the playoffs, New Orleans needs to win its final two regular-season games (on the road against Philadelphia and home against Carolina), and have first-place Tampa Bay (7-8) lose its final two regular-season games (home against Carolina and on the road against Atlanta), or have Tampa Bay lose one and tie one.
New Orleans navigated sub-freezing conditions – the coldest game the franchise ever has played – and constructed its first two-game winning streak this season.
"I think what it says is we've got a bunch of really mentally tough guys," said Hansen, who played his first defensive snaps of the season and had three tackles. "It's something that Coach (Dennis) Allen preached all week and it's one thing to talk about it, it's another thing to see it come to fruition in a game like that.
"Football is a mental sport, but it's clear that it's also a very physical sport. If you have great physical tools there are some times where you can just overcome certain mental weaknesses, I guess you could say. But this was one those games where you just can't. You've got to be able to do it for four quarters. You've got to keep going. You can get put on your butt and then, you've just got to get up and keep playing.
"Everyone's playing in the cold. It was cool to be a part of. Just the mental toughness that I feel like it showed at this point in the season. I was impressed by a number of guys and I was just grateful to be a part of it."
Offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton said it was the kind of game that his position group longs for.
"It's one of those games that as an offensive lineman, you get excited about," he said. "It was just fun. It's one of those nasty, grueling kind of games where whoever is able to run the ball better and control the clock better is most likely going to come out on top. It was just one of those games that we were very excited about as a group and we were obviously elated to be able to get the victory."
TALK TO ME: The two position groups that arguably require the most communication, offensive line and the secondary, are the two that arguably have experienced the most upheaval this season due to injuries.
Throckmorton started at right guard in place of injured Cesar Ruiz, but during the game, left guard Andrus Peat exited with an injury and was replaced by Josh Andrews. In the secondary, the projected starting unit of cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Paulson Adebo, and safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye barely have played any game snaps together.
"I think when you look at offensive line, defensive secondary, there's a lot of communication that has to go into those units being successful," Allen said Monday. "Just the different parts each and every week obviously makes that challenging.
"But we've had some guys that have really come in and stepped up when called upon – we talked about (defensive back) Dan Sorensen this past week, (rookie cornerback) Alontae Taylor is a guy that has stepped in when he's been called upon to come out and play and has played exceptionally well, (defensive back) Bradley Roby is a guy that over the last few weeks I think has done some good things for us. I think it's a testament to our guys to continue to work, continue to fight and continue to get themselves prepared and ready to play."
Sorensen's interception and 36-yard return set up the go-ahead touchdown for New Orleans.
"Just a guy that comes to work every single day," Allen said. "He continues to prepare himself to be ready to play. You have to be able to do that, because you never know when your number is going to get called. That was not surprising to me to see him produce, because I know the way that he works and the way that he prepares."
PENNING IS MIGHTIER: Rookie offensive tackle Trevor Penning hasn't yet started an NFL game, but he's rounding into form after missing the first 11 regular-season games after suffering a foot injury in preseason.
"Each and every week I've seen progress," Allen said. "There's a few plays in this game that you look up and he's on a (defensive back) 10 yards down the field, putting him on the ground. There was one play in the game where he comes off the line of scrimmage, the safety kind of shoots inside, he knocks him down to the ground and then goes to block the linebacker, knocks him down to the ground. That was good to see. So we're seeing a lot of significant improvement with him as he goes along and I just love his toughness, his mentality about playing the game. It's been good to see."