NEW ORLEANS - When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees got it going in the second half, the Buffalo Bills had absolutely no answer for his usual magic.
After trailing the Bills 10-7 midway through the second quarter and looking sluggish coming off a bye week, Brees caught fire, completing 26-of-34 passes for 332 yards and five touchdowns, including two each to rookie receiver Kenny Stills and tight end Jimmy Graham, to pound the Bills 35-17 Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Flagged twice in the first half for simulating a snap with a hard count and a third time for delay of game, Brees bore down to lead the Saints to 21 unanswered points in a 13:28 span of the second and third quarters. That turned the 10-7 deficit into a 28-10 lead, and the Saints coasted to the victory that improved their record to 6-1, keeping a two-game lead over Carolina in the NFC South.
"We just looked sloppy," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I'm pleased we got the win, but it certainly wasn't our best effort. We made a lot of mistakes in a lot of areas. Those are things that start with me."
The Saints took a 7-0 lead on Brees' 15-yard throw to Lance Moore down the seam. Buffalo battled back to regain the lead, 10-7, on a 13-yard pass from quarterback Thad Lewis to Stevie Johnson and a 37-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter.
But Brees didn't let the lead last long. On second down from the Saints' 31, Brees got good protection, which allowed him just enough time to spot Stills on an out-and-up move down the left sidelines. Stills was so wide open behind linebacker Jerry Hughes that Brees simply had to feather the ball in so that Stills could run under it. Stills did the rest, scoring untouched, and the Saints never trailed.
"It really changed the momentum," Brees said. "That was a big momentum shift."
"It was a good call by them and it got us in a tough call," said Bills head coach Doug Marrone. "We put Jerry in a tough situation on that play. We told him that when they came off the field. Those things happen in this game, but you feel really, really terrible as a coach when that happens because you feel you put them in a bad situation."
What the Bills said
"(Drew Brees) doesn't miss that much. All of a sudden, we had (linebacker) Jerry Hughes on (Kenny) Stills with the double move, and we get beat and he finds him open. That is one thing about him. He is a veteran guy. He always finds those guys." - Bills coach Doug Marrone on Saints quarterback Drew Brees
What the Saints said
"He has been consistent for a rookie. He is very smart and he has been on the tail end of a lot of big plays now. I think that consistency is important. We have seen him get behind defenses, and we have seen him make plays like the last one today, where it was kind of equal (in battling a defender). He has really good focus. Some guys have a knack for making that type of play." - Saints coach Sean Payton on rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills
What we learned about the Bills
1. Although it wasn't good enough, the Bills hung with the high-powered Saints' offense for about 25 minutes. The defense turned away the Saints with no points after Thad Lewis fumbled on the game's first play and New Orleans had a first down at the Buffalo 22. But after taking a 10-7 lead, the Bills got caught napping on defense when safety Jairus Byrd was caught going to other way, allowing Kenny Stills an unimpeded 69-yard TD catch down the left sidelines.
2. It will be lost in the shuffle, but coach Doug Marrone made a couple of questionable challenges in the second half that left him with no challenges early in the fourth quarter. The first came when Marrone thought Fred Jackson scored from the 2-yard line but was ruled inches short. The other challenged a spot that gave the Saints a first down on a third-and-1 on the next series. If the score had been closer, Marrone would have some questions to answer. "I have to do a better job of changing the process of our challenges," Marrone said. "We haven't been successful in that."
What we learned about the Saints
1. Drew Brees is the master of the hard count, regularly drawing defenders offsides with slight movements of his head and hands. But referee Terry McAulay, whose crew is known to call a tight game, must have been looking closely at game films or else was tipped off by the Bills before the game to watch Brees closely. Brees was flagged twice for false starts - essentially simulating the snap to get a read on the defense or force the defense to jump. "
"I'm not sure what happened," Brees said, who seemed upset by both calls. "On the first one, I didn't get an answer. The second one I think it was maybe the hands. I'm not completely sure, to be honest with you. That sometimes comes from defensive coaches (saying) your actions of trying to have the ball snapped (in the shotgun) is a way of dragging them offsides. Sometimes they will call you for that."
2. Jimmy Graham played despite a painful foot injury. He did not play as many plays as he he normally does, and Brees threw only three passes his way - but two of the passes went for touchdowns in the red zone. "It's a foot injury, and it's one that didn't involve swelling, so the risk of any re-injury was no different today than it would be three weeks from today or seven weeks from today or 10 weeks from today," Payton said. "It was just a matter of can he function and can he move in and out of a cut."