NEW ORLEANS (WGR 550) -- With the conclusion of their most recent contest, the Buffalo Bills are now at the halfway point of the 2013 regular season. It's certainly had its ups throughout the past eight weeks, but against their toughest task of the season, the young Bills team felt their lowest low on Sunday in New Orleans.
The Saints shook off a slow start that kept the Bills alive deep into the second quarter, and instead dealt Buffalo their most lopsided defeat of the campaign, winning 35-17 at The Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Bills certainly lacked in some key areas which ultimately led to their collective demise, but offered a few bright spots along the way.
The moment the Bills' balloon burst
- A shock to most, the Bills actually held the lead late into the second quarter despite all the injuries and the talent gap from New Orleans' quarterback to theirs. Buffalo was able to push aside two early turnovers that gave New Orleans fantastic field position, and went ahead (10-7) with a 37-yard field goal from the leg of Dan Carpenter. Right after that, Drew Brees and the Saints channeled their inner Incredible Hulk. After that score, Brees took just two plays to go 86 yards and find pay dirt. The Bills made themselves vulnerable by bringing a certain rush at Brees and leaving Jerry Hughes on wide receiver Kenny Stills. Just one double move left the rush linebacker in the dust and Hughes couldn't recover. That play resulted in the first of two long touchdowns to Stills, with this one going for 69 yards. From that point forward, the Saints were seemingly on cruise control on offense. They ended any lingering hopes Buffalo had with a back-breaking 13-yard run by Pierre Thomas in the third quarter, followed immediately by Jimmy Graham's second touchdown catch of the day. The Saints offense took a little while to wake up, but they found their groove at home just like they normally do.
- Right from the first offensive snap of the game, Bills quarterback Thad Lewis had to feel like he had a permanent shadow hovering over him every time he dropped back to pass. Whether it was offensive linemen getting beaten by their assignments, or if it was a unique blitz called by Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Lewis was on the ground and taking punishment throughout the duration of the game. The Saints only tallied four sacks on the afternoon, but considering the two sacks called back on a roughing the passer call on Corey White and many other hits throughout the day, Lewis is going wake up quite sore on Monday. That will be a defensive game plan the Bills should get used to seeing as long as Thad Lewis is quarterbacking this team. Until he proves otherwise, teams will send an increasing amount of blitzes and pressures at him to try and force a mistake.
Fumbles, fumbles and more fumbles
And those mistakes happened, more so than any other game for Buffalo in 2013. The Bills fumbled the ball five times collectively. Lewis was creamed three separate times for the first three, then he stumbled from the snap which led to an unclean handoff to Fred Jackson and then the quarterback chucked an interception when he was trying to make a play late in the game. In total, Lewis accounted for four fumbles, two of which were lost, and the interception. If there's one thing that has been a positive during Lewis' three starts with the team, it's that the Bills have limited their turnovers on offense. That, in turn, has helped key the Bills to one victory, and a very close loss to one of the AFC's best in overtime. At times Lewis has been careless with the ball, and the Bills must do a better job game planning and helping him through what will be a common theme over the next two or three weeks of him starting. Otherwise, expect to see that ball hitting the turf and changing hands at a much higher rate than it did against Miami or Cincinnati due to all the pressure sent Lewis' way.
Stevie stands out
- Odds are you've likely read about this type of effort before from Stevie Johnson but he just guts it out on the field again and again, regardless of the injury he's dealing with. Having already dealt with hamstring and back injuries so far in 2013, Johnson had to battle through a hip flexor injury for the most the game. He would do his normal routine of hobbling back to the huddle, but once the ball was snapped you wouldn't have gleaned he was injured based on his movements. Had the circumstances been different and Johnson hadn't been in California the week leading up to the Cincinnati game due to a death in the family, the way he's operated his entire career screams that he probably would have been ready for that contest. Through his most recent injury, Johnson brought in a number of clutch catches including Thad Lewis' only touchdown toss. Even though he seems like he's hurt constantly, it very rarely takes a toll on his performance on Sundays. A seven catch, 72-yard day in New Orleans is no different.
Brees a member of the elite
- If you didn't believe the hype on how effective Drew Brees has been this season and him being on of the top two or three quarterbacks in football this year, by now you've seen the light. Even though the Saints had top target Jimmy Graham for merely a handful of plays throughout the contest, and with the Bills effectively taking away Darren Sproles as a weapon (four catches for zero yards), Brees still managed a 332-yard, five touchdown game without skipping a beat. Whether it was Kenny Stills, Ben Watson, Lance Moore or the unknown Josh Hill, Brees ultimately found his way up and down the field at will from the second quarter on. The good news for the Bills? They won't be going up against another quarterback quite on his level again in 2013.
Running game snuffed out after first half
Through the first thirty minutes of action, the Buffalo Bills had a vital part of their game plan going at quite a high level. Fred Jackson looked particularly nimble considering his ongoing knee injury, Tashard Choice had the biggest rush of the day and the Saints couldn't get a handle on either of them. In the first half the Bills totaled 75 yards on 16 carries, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Once the Saints turned on the heat at the end of the second quarter, the running game as we knew it all but died with the opening of the second half. The rest of the way Buffalo had only 13 yards on nine more carries -- a 1.4 yards per carry average. Granted, they couldn't do much running down by two scores in the second half, but even when they did try New Orleans had solved their woes of the first half. With Thad Lewis at the controls of the passing offense, they needed a complete game from their rushing attack to have a chance in the game, and right when the Saints pulled away it doubled as the moment the running game was all but killed off.
Chandler's attempt to atone
- Having one of his best days of the season (7 receptions, 72 yards), Scott Chandler didn't have many negatives throughout his day to dwell on. Sometimes though, all it takes is one. In the third quarter with the Bills down 28-10, Thad Lewis found a wide open T.J. Graham deep down the field for a reception that led to Graham scampering into the end zone. It would have been a huge wave aimed directly at the white-hot Saints offense, but it was negated by a holding penalty. There Chandler stood, shoulders slumped in the backfield upon hearing the call was on him, bubbling over with frustration. Chandler was determined and served as one of the primary targets throughout the rest of the game. However, the misstep was so ill-timed because not only did it spoil a huge momentum-shift in the game, it also took an additional four-plus minutes off the clock. The Bills ended up scoring on that same drive, but took away precious time that they probably didn't have to complete the remainder of the drive.
Flashes of the old Byrd are increasing
- Playing his first full game since returning to the lineup two weeks ago, franchised safety Jairus Byrd is starting to get back to his tricks of old. Byrd displayed his athleticism, instincts and recognition ability by breaking up a few separate plays throughout the game, including one where he made the play despite starting about eight-to-nine yards away from the intended target. Just as impressive, it was through a combination of his efforts and some others to limit Darren Sproles to one of his worst outputs as a member of the Saints. Byrd's interceptions haven't come back to him just yet, but he really seems to be finding his game from the past few seasons. If he continues to put himself in those situations, it won't be long before Byrd has a rather large impact in the game other than just a few pass breakups and in run support.
Bills' MVP: WR Stevie Johnson
- With all due respect to Kiko Alonso, Jairus Byrd and Nickell Robey, the top player award just can't be given to a member of a defense that couldn't stop much in the passing game during the final 34 minutes of the game. Instead it goes to Johnson who once again displayed the toughness to not only play through an injury, but to thrive despite the lingering pain.
Bills' LVP: RT Erik Pears
- Whether it was Cameron Jordan or Junior Gallette, it seemed like the Bills' starting right tackle just couldn't get ahold of either of the players. Thad Lewis took a lot of hits throughout the game, and Pears played a major role in those efforts.
Up Next: Sunday, November 3 vs. Kansas City (8-0) at Ralph Wilson Stadium, 1 pm
- Sitting at the bottom of the AFC East halfway through the season, the 3-5 Buffalo Bills will return home to take on the NFL's last remaining undefeated team. Under head coach Doug Marrone, Buffalo will never find solace in moral victories. Making New Orleans and their elite level quarterback sweat for almost the entire first half should be one to build from, however. Their first game against Kansas City notwithstanding, now the Bills are entering the part of their schedule where they can really make some noise in the conference standings if they can string enough wins together. With the upcoming game against Kansas City being a home game, even that could be an attainable win. Past the Chiefs, the Bills are at Pittsburgh, home against the New York Jets, up against Atlanta in Toronto, then travel to Florida two straight weekends to take on the winless Buccaneers and Jaguars. The Bills would do very well to treat their game against the Saints as a learning experience. Defensively speaking they won't take on an offense quite as high-powered as New Orleans again, and on offense they know what to expect with Lewis as their quarterback. Now it's a matter of second-half adjustments, and putting together a stretch of wins during the most winnable portion of the schedule.