It was a game that was there for the taking early, but Buffalo's offense, committed a pair of first quarter turnovers and couldn't string enough positive plays together to threaten the Saints in a 35-17 loss to New Orleans. The NFC South leaders used big plays in the passing game as two of Drew Brees' five touchdown passes went for more than 40 yards in the 18-point victory.
"You've got to tip your hat to the New Orleans Saints because they played great," said Bills QB Thad Lewis. "We did what we could do, but we didn't do enough and the outcome was what it should've been. We just need to make plays period and you can't win if you don't make plays."
As is usually the case with the Saints, Brees was the difference. Along with his five touchdown passes, Brees completed 76 percent of his passes for 332 yards.
"We've got to learn how to play and finish strong," said LB Jerry Hughes. "We had some opportunities that we didn't capitalize on as a defense getting off the field on that third down drive."
Buffalo's defensive play was good coming out of the locker room. Kyle Williams delivered a key sack on a 3rd-and-6 at the Bills 37 to force a punt. The Bills offense however, could not find any rhythm. After a quick three-and-out, the Saints offense was back on the field and staged a six-play 57-yard scoring drive.
Finishing off the drive with a touchdown catch for the second straight time was tight end Jimmy Graham, who stretched his 6'7" frame to break the plane of the goal line to balloon the Saints 11-point halftime lead to 18 (28-10) 5:15 left in the third quarter.
"He doesn't miss that much," said Doug Marrone of Brees. "That's the one thing about him. He's a veteran guy, he's one of the top guys in the league. Everyone knows my relationship with him and darn he always finds those guys."
The Bills, to their credit, would respond with their longest drive of the game marching 80 yards on 12 plays after the Saints third quarter scoring drive. They had a 55-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to T.J. Graham called back on penalty, but Buffalo persevered. Lewis found Marquise Goodwin on a 1st-and-10 for a 26-yard strike to the Saints' 13.
Following a roughing the passer call on Corey White, who made helmet-to-helmet contact with Thad Lewis, Buffalo had a 1st-and-goal at the Saints four-yard line. Fred Jackson pounded the ball in from a yard out on third-and-goal to cut the New Orleans lead to 11 (28-17) with 14 minutes left in in game.
Buffalo's defense got the stop it needed with Nickell Robey breaking up a third down pass attempt to get the ball back for the offense. Unfortunately Thad Lewis had a miscommunication with Marquise Goodwin on a deep outside throw and it was picked off by Keenan Lewis at New Orleans 37.
"It was a little more than we expected, but they weren't tipping their hand," said Lewis of New Orleans' high rate of pressure packages and blitzes. "They weren't showing us they were going to zero blitz us, it was pretty much after the snap. They weren't bringing guys down to show us that the middle of the field was going to be open. So we adjusted on a few and got in a few plays."
Lewis finished 22-39 for 234 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Buffalo's three turnovers led to 14 points for New Orleans.
From there the Saints put the game out of reach as Drew Brees overcame a 3rd-and-20 when he scrambled away from the pass rush and threw a 42-yard dart to a covered Kenny Stills for a touchdown with 7:34 left (35-17).
"We got to (Brees) a couple of times, some good times," said Kyle Williams, who was a direct part of the four sack effort. "They do a good job. He does a good job when he doesn't have a favorable protection he gets the ball out quick and then when he wants to go downfield they block it up, go play action and he does a good job knowing when and when he can't hold onto the ball."
The Bills chose to take the ball after winning the coin toss, the first time they've done that this season. Unfortunately their first possession did not last long. Thad Lewis on a read option keeper was nailed by the crown of David Hawthorne's helmet right in his ribs and the hit dislodged the ball. New Orleans recovered at the Buffalo 25-yard line.
Lewis never saw Hawthorne.
"No, I didn't and he got a good shot on me, hats off to him whoever that was, I don't even know, but he got a good shot on me," said Lewis. "But there was no doubt I was going back into the game."
The defense however, picked up the offense pushing the Saints attack back seven yards and forcing a field goal attempt after just three plays. Garrett Hartley's 47-yard attempt then sailed wide right leaving the game scoreless less than two minutes into regulation.
Following an exchange of possessions, New Orleans got another prime drive start off a turnover. On a 3rd-and-5 at the Bills 34, Thad Lewis cocked to pass, but had to recoil as he was sacked. He couldn't tuck the ball away in time and fumbled on the play. The Saints recovered at the Buffalo 21 and this time they capitalized. On a 3rd-and-4 from the Buffalo 15, Brees despite good coverage from Nickell Robey was able to fit a pass into Lance Moore for a 15-yard touchdown reception and a 7-0 lead at the 4:44 mark of the first quarter.
Buffalo would even the score early in the second quarter as Lewis worked the middle of the field with Stevie Johnson. After a couple of receptions by Johnson, a 20-yard run by Tashard Choice set the Bills up 1st-and-10 at the Saints 21. Johnson would pull in a 13-yard slant for a score to cap the drive three plays later (7-7). The Bills top wideout had four catches on the 72-yard scoring drive for 42 yards.
The Bills would then take the lead on their next series. A big third down conversion by Lewis to Scott Chandler picked up 22 yards and set up Buffalo in New Orleans territory at the 40. Another catch by Chandler would move the sticks down to the 26-yard line two plays later. Lewis tried to hit Chandler again on a 3rd-and-3 at the Saints 19, but the tight end had the ball knocked away for an incompletion.
Dan Carpenter put a 37-yard field goal through the uprights for a 10-7 Bills edge with 4:38 left in the half.
The Saints however, had a quick strike answer. Drew Brees hit rookie receiver Kenny Stills deep down the left sideline on a busted coverage by Buffalo for a 69-yard touchdown catch and run to re-take the lead for New Orleans 14-10.
"I'm supposed to carry him all the way," said Hughes of his coverage on Stills. "I had my eyes in the backfield. It's unfortunate that I played out on my part, but he's an elite quarterback and he's going to find that. I've just got to continue to work on my craft and get my eyes out of the backfield."
After a three-and-out drive by the Bills, New Orleans with the help of a couple of Buffalo penalties got into the red zone and Brees found Jimmy Graham on a post pattern for a 15-yard touchdown to push the Saints lead to 11 with less than a minute in the half.
The loss dropped Buffalo to 3-5 on the season. They host undefeated Kansas City at Ralph Wilson Stadium next Sunday for a 1 p.m. kickoff.