It might not have been the most complete, most pristine or most pleasing-to-the-eye victory that New Orleans has posted this season. But Saturday's 17-10 win over the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland arguably was the one where the Saints showed the most fortitude, falling behind 10-0 in sub-freezing conditions and methodically pounding their way back with the final 17 points en route to posting their first two-game winning streak of the season.
The Saints (6-9) needed it, and they required several standout performances in order to get it.
OFFENSE: Give the offensive line as many platitudes as you want for this one. New Orleans entered the game without right guard Cesar Ruiz, the only member of the offensive line who'd played every snap this season, and lost left guard Andrus Peat during the game. But Peat (when he was in), left tackle James Hurst, center Erik McCoy, guard Calvin Throckmorton, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, Josh Andrews and Trevor Penning did the heavy lifting Saturday. New Orleans rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries, and running back Alvin Kamara (20-76-1) and quarterback Taysom Hill (9-56-1) were outstanding. But the offensive line helped make Kamara's runs from the Wildcat formation, and Hill's quarterback power runs, effective even when the Browns knew what was coming. And when Andy Dalton was called upon to throw, the line kept him clean – he wasn't sacked in 15 pass attempts. It was the kind of day and gameplan that offensive linemen pine for, and the Saints' linemen made the most of it.
DEFENSE: Defensive end Carl Granderson displayed the kind of day it would be for him when, on third down on Cleveland's opening drive, he stared down mobile quarterback Deshaun Watson on a rollout and forced Watson to throw incomplete. Granderson may have played his best game of the season with six tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and a seven-yard sack on Cleveland's final offensive play – fourth-and-10 from the Saints' 15-yard line with 26 seconds left. Safety Daniel Sorensen deserves credit for coming up with an interception and 36-yard return that led to the lead-taking touchdown, and was huge for a defense which hasn't forced many turnovers this season. And safety Tyrann Mathieu led New Orleans with 11 tackles. But Granderson continually came up big when New Orleans needed him to.
SPECIAL TEAMS: In a field-position game, punter Blake Gillikin did his part. Two of his six punts were downed inside the 20, giving the Saints' defense a great starting point. Gillikin's numbers weren't overwhelming – six punts for a 42.3-yard average and a 36.5-yard net – but he didn't put the defense in a bad position, which easily could have happened when wind gusts approach 30 mph.