The only thing that totally was fulfilling about the New Orleans Saints' 21-18 victory was the final score.
New Orleans evened its record at 1-1 on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome by posting a win over Cleveland that was mistake-filled – by both teams – to say the least. The Saints weren't at peak efficiency and few, if any, inside the locker room were happy with the means to the end. But it was a win, and a win is better than the alternative.
Still, there's polishing to do, and a short time in which to do it.
OFFENSE: New Orleans' offense Sunday bore little resemblance to the unit that scored 40 points and rolled up more than 400 yards of offense in the season opener against Tampa Bay. Drew Brees missed a couple of touchdown throws, Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn, Jr., lost fumbles, Alvin Kamara had a touchdown catch wiped out because two teammates were holding on the play, and Wil Lutz missed a 44-yard field goal – in the first half. Give credit where it's due: Cleveland is salty defensively, and has forced eight turnovers in two games. The Browns pressured Brees (three sacks, four quarterback hits), were determined to minimize the Saints' big plays and were fortuitous. But New Orleans didn't cash in on several chances, and it has to have a little more effectiveness when it does run the ball (23 carries for 62 yards; 22 for 61 when you erase Brees' kneeldown in "Victory" formation). The turnovers (four lost fumbles in the first two games) are a major concern.
DEFENSE: Nice turnaround game for the defense, after allowing 41 points and more than 500 yards in the season opener. Cleveland was a lot more conservative than was Tampa Bay, but, still, the Saints allowed just 18 points and were fantastic on third down (Cleveland converted 4 of 12). The Saints applied pressure (two sacks by Cameron Jordan, one by Sheldon Rankins), forced their first turnover (Marcus Williams' fourth-quarter interception set up the touchdown that gave the Saints their first lead, at 18-12) and held the Browns to 327 yards. The ending was nowhere near as clean as the D would have liked, with Cleveland driving from its 25 to the Saints' 34 on two plays, in 13 seconds, to set up a game-tying field goal attempt. And that was after surrendering a tying, 47-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor to Antonio Callaway with 1:16 left, a play on which Callaway somehow got behind a secondary that probably was scheming to prevent exactly that kind of play. But it got the job done well enough to help produce a win.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Three performances are worth noting. First, kicker Wil Lutz kicked a 44-yarder with 21 seconds left to provide the winning margin, bouncing back from missing a 44-yarder in the first half. Second, the legend of Taysom Hill grew by another chapter. The backup quarterback, who makes tackles on special teams, ran back a kickoff for the first time in his NFL career and popped a 47-yard return in the third quarter. The Saints weren't able to capitalize, but it was a nice jolt of electricity. Third – even though he isn't a Saint – Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez was more of an asset to New Orleans than he was to Cleveland. Gonzalez missed two field-goal attempts (44 and 52 yards, the latter of which would have tied the score at 21-21 and forced overtime) and two point-after attempts. To say it was an eventful day on special teams is an understatement.