In a handful of ways, the New Orleans Saints played well enough to win Sunday's game against Cincinnati in the Caesars Superdome. And in that vein, there were several standout individual performances to warrant mention from the 30-26 loss.
OFFENSE: The offensive line wasn't perfect, but the group did more than hold its own against a defense that knew the Saints would want to run the ball. For the second straight week, New Orleans totaled more than 200 rushing yards (228 and a touchdown, on 34 carries) and even if the jet sweep, 44-yard touchdown run by receiver Rashid Shaheed is separated, it still would have been a 33-carry, 184-yard day. The line allowed one sack and its one glaring infraction, a holding penalty, was erased when the Bengals roughed the passer to give New Orleans a first down. New Orleans needed to establish the run given that it was without its top three receivers, and the line held up its end.
DEFENSE: It's fair to wonder, from time to time, just what might happen if the Saints turned loose linebacker Demario Davis on the pass rush more often. On Sunday, what happened was this: Two sacks, two quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. Davis finished with a team-high nine tackles and he remains the quintessential guy-falls-where-Demario-tackles-him player. The Saints had three sacks for the third consecutive game, and his two showed that when called upon, he's more than capable of getting home and getting the quarterback on the ground.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Wil Lutz could have been an easy pick here. Four field goals in as many attempts always jumps out, regardless of distance. But linebacker Andrew Dowellis on the team and the gameday roster because of what he provides on special teams, and on Sunday he was an impact player who forced a fumble off a punt, which was recovered by tight end Adam Trautman. The turnover set up the Saints for their first touchdown; three plays after the fumble recovery, Andy Dalton threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith. Dowell showed a knack for separating players from the ball in training camp last year, and on Sunday he was able to do that against Cincinnati.