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Immediate reactions: Saints 35, Bills 17

blog by Nick Mendola  • 

There’s a danger in oversimplification, and there’s plenty to discuss from Buffalo’s loss in New Orleans, but what if we just started here:

Down 2.5 of their three best offensive playmakers, the Buffalo Bills could not pull together a comeback going shot-for-shot with Drew Brees.

No C.J. Spiller. No EJ Manuel. Stevie Johnson with a leg that appeared to be held together with duct tape.

-versus-

One of the best offenses in the National Football League.

Yes, it’s offense vs. defense—not O vs. O and D vs. D—and the Buffalo defensive unit was game and held them in it, but… for real?

Put another way: your 10-plus point underdog team plays the Saints in their building. You’re going to take a ton of penalties and lose the turnover battle, 3-0. Who’s predicting even a close game?

A win would’ve been monumental.

—Drew Brees is really good, as in “misfires for a quarter-plus and still throws for five touchdowns” good. That’s good. Good good.

—At some point, and I’m sorry for saying this, football’s rules committee is going to grab the league, drape it in chum, hold it aloft, jump over a cage of starving sharks and jam the crest right into the biggest one’s mouth.

Holy smokes! In a game with loads of points, we were subjected to the most consistent arbitrary application of the league’s silly rules. It slowed the game to a crawl.

‘High’ hits on falling players.

A hands-to-the-face penalty clause when that hand was being held.

Picked-up flags on clear holding calls.

No flags on clear holding calls.

Holding calls on non-holding calls.

It was a brutal, brutal game to watch and it shouldn’t have been. The teams did plenty to produce entertaining football and, like a book with too many footnotes, the officials couldn’t get out of the way. It didn’t benefit either team, really, but yeesh.

“Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies. Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain…”

—Thad Lewis fumbled twice in the first quarter, both times giving New Orleans possession well into Buffalo territory. The first one can be forgiven considering it appeared Saints linebacker David Hawthorne aimed his helmet like a rib-busting missile, but the second was the product of trying to do too much.

Lewis was pressured so much in the first quarter, it wouldn’t have seemed that out-of-place if he simply imploded. POP! Where’d Thad go?

—The Bills found some consistency on the offensive line in the second half and then it seemed Lewis did a few too many Lewis things. On consecutive plays early in the fourth quarter, Lewis overthrew a wide-open Marquise Goodwin and was picked off by an equally “open” Keenan Lewis.

—It’s hard to be angry at Nickell Robey for New Orleans’ first touchdown. Drew Brees to Lance Moore is a combination that’s tortured much better corners than an undrafted rookie and that throw was a beaut.

—I wrote that before it became pretty clear Brees wanted to pick on the undersized Robey whenever possible. The jump-ball touchdown to Stills when the Bills’ pass rush had Brees on the run was just awful to watch. And to think: with the Gilmore and McKelvin contracts fairly set, the Bills probably won’t take a corner early in next year’s draft (left guard, tight end, safety, maybe right tackle).

—The Bills had a chance to keep a lid on the Saints 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when Marcell Dareus and Jamaal Westerman decided the NFL had changed its mind regarding their extreme protection of quarterbacks, hitting Brees at least a full second after their pressure cause the future Hall of Famer to make an errant pass. Awful penalty.

—If you’ve spent any time in this space, you’re well aware of my feelings toward Stevie Johnson’s act this year. It’s felt like too much free form and just as much “me” form.

Yet his performance in the first half was simply incredible, shades of Eric Moulds. He was working back to the ball to bail out Lewis. He was catching tough passes that have been drops in recent weeks. Most important, he was stunning in traffic.

Johnson had four catches for 42 yards on his first four targets, culminating in the 13-yard game-tying touchdown. Not bad at all. Of course, then his left hip acted up while jogging to a pre-snap position… and he worked through the injury. How the Bills allowed him to keep playing and risk destroying whatever body part was hurting him is a question mark (presumably they determined he couldn’t do more damage) but full credit to No. 13.

—I’m not sure whose job it was to cover Kenny Stills on the 69-yard touchdown reception that had Jerry Hughes trying to track down the Sooner speedster, but that position was apparently eliminated before the play. Woof. Talk about a total destruction of momentum.

—It’s not a major point, but not taking a shot with 30 seconds left in the first half is a real problem for me. Head coach Doug Marrone had timeouts and was facing a two-touchdown deficit against one of the best offenses in the league. Give it a go. I know plenty of NFL teams let the clock run out there, but if I’m an opponent up 11 points and see a team do that, I feel like I’ve won.

—I try not to be “second guess” guy when the results are so telling, but would the Bills be 5-3 if they tagged Andy Levitre and let whatever happen to Jairus Byrd?

Stat-line I liked:
Johnson, 7 catches, 72 yards, TD
— Again, gutty work.

Stat-line I didn’t like:
Kenny Stills, 3 receptions, 129 yards, 2 TD
— Your argument that his two big plays were the difference is quite valid.

Game balls:
Kyle Williams
— Seven tackles, 1.5 sacks in return to Louisiana (LSU product born in Ruston). He was very strong against pass and rush.

Next week:
Home to Kansas City. I know the Chiefs record is sparkling, but pardon me if I think the Bills can get it done at home. Buffalo 20, Kansas City 19.

Lastly:
I’ll say it again, and it may go down as the NFL Films subtitle to the Bills 2013 season: It could’ve been a lot worse.

TAGGED: buffalo bills, drew brees, immediate reactions, new orleans saints, nick mendola, stevie johnson, thad lewis

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