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New Orleans Saints have been lucky and good

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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks downfield during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by David Tulis/UPI

By Les East, The Sports Xchange
METAIRIE, La.

The New Orleans Saints have had some luck during their five-game winning streak, but they've also played some consistently good football.

They benefited from a series of missed kicks by the Cleveland Browns in a 21-18 victory to start the streak, were able to put away the Atlanta Falcons a week later by scoring a touchdown on the first possession of overtime after winning the coin toss, and they avoided overtime in a 24-23 victory at Baltimore on Sunday when Justin Tucker missed an extra point after making the first 222 extra points in his career.

But the victory against the Ravens featured many of the elements that surfaced in the previous four wins, which also included a 33-18 victory against the Giants and a 43-19 victory against the Redskins: outstanding play by Drew Brees, balance on offense and an improving defense.

"It was a complete team win," linebacker A.J. Klein said Monday. "Offense, defense, special teams -- every single phase of the team contributed. We kind of escaped late with the missed extra point, but we'll take a win and move on to next week."

That's when New Orleans visits Minnesota in a rematch of the NFC Divisional Round playoff game that the Vikings won 29-24 last year in Minneapolis.

That loss is the last game in which Brees has thrown an interception. His six consecutive interception-free games to start the season is a career-best.

"He's playing efficiently," Saints head coach Sean Payton said of Brees. "Obviously location has been great. I think he's making good decisions with the ball."

During the winning streak, the Saints have won games in which they scored 43 points (twice) and in which they allowed 18, 16 and 19.

"I think [winning in different ways] is something you build," Payton said. "Obviously you want to have that confidence, and that only comes after you've done it a few times, and once you've done it a few times you do feel like you're in a game [regardless of the score]."

Brees guided the Saints to 17 fourth-quarter points against a Ravens defense that had not allowed a second-half touchdown in its previous six games.

The rushing yards came in small chunks, but Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara had enough success to help New Orleans out-rush Baltimore 134-77.

The Ravens were able to sack Brees just once a week after getting 11 sacks against Tennessee.

NOTES:

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QB Brees threw the 500th touchdown pass of his career on a 1-yard toss to TE Benjamin Watson. Brees, who later threw another touchdown pass to Michael Thomas, is the fourth player in NFL history to reach that milestone, joining Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

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TE Dan Arnold made his first career catch on a 10-yard throw from Brees in the second quarter. Arnold spent his rookie season in 2017 on injured reserve and made the active roster this season after switching from wide receiver at the start of training camp. He caught a 25-yard pass from Brees in the fourth quarter.

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WR Michael Thomas, who lost a fumble in each of the first two games, had ball security issues again Sunday when he dropped two passes. Nonetheless, Thomas still made seven catches for 69 yards and scored the touchdown that gave New Orleans the lead for good.

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OL Cameron Tom got extensive playing time at left guard and held his own. Starter Andrus Peat (concussion) did not play and his replacement, Josh LeRibeus, left the game for good in the second quarter because of an ankle injury. Tom played the rest of the way. "Given the circumstances, I think he did excellent," said right guard Larry Warford, who missed practice most of last week because of a sore back. "I don't think he took one left guard snap the whole week. He was working right guard and had to be called in at a spot he hadn't played yet and he did his job and he did it excellent."

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OL Jermon Bushrod and his wife lost their infant daughter, Jordyn Lynn, last Thursday. Bushrod, who missed practice late last week and did not make the trip to Baltimore, shared the news of the week-old girl's death with a tweet Saturday: "My heart has been broken," he said.

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