First Downs and Flags: Drew Brees and the Saints Defeat Bills By 18

Buffalo Bills quarterback Thad Lewis had a rough game Sunday versus the New Orleans Saints, including three turnovers. (Photo: Crystal LoGuidice — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: John Maher

Sunday was not the best showing for the Buffalo Bills this season and the scoreboard reflected that with a final score of 35-17 in the favor of the New Orleans Saints. That 18-point differential is the largest margin of defeat for the Bills this season, and Sunday was the first time this year that the Bills did not score 20 or more points.

The story of the game was the major differences between the starting quarterbacks. Bills quarterback Thad Lewis had one touchdown and three turnovers, while Saints quarterback Drew Brees had five touchdowns and zero turnovers.

The Bills stayed with the Saints early on in the game, even holding a 10-7 lead in the first half, but that score did not last as the Saints overpowered the Bills offensively and took home the win.

First Downs

Stevie Johnson

Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson and Thad Lewis finally found some chemistry this Sunday. On the Bills’ first scoring drive of the game in the second quarter, Lewis connected with Johnson four times for 42 yards, including the lone receiving touchdown of the game on a beautiful 13-yard catch by Johnson.  Throughout the rest of the game, Johnson was visibly limping around the field and sidelines, yet continued to play through the pain and made some key first-down catches, allowing him to finish the game with seven catches for 72 yards.

Though hindered by injury, his presence seemed to open up other targets including wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and tight end Scott Chandler.

Scott Chandler

Aside from a touchdown, Scott Chandler had an identical stat line to Stevie Johnson on Sunday: seven catches for 72 yards on 11 targets. He also almost made a spectacular grab in the end zone over Saints cornerback Chris Carr, but the ball hit the turf after Chandler bobbled the ball for a good five seconds with a lot of contact from Carr.

Chandler was not too stellar blocking; a blown block in the second quarter led to Thad Lewis’ third fumble of the game, though that one was recovered by Bills left guard Doug Legursky, allowing Chandler to make up for it on the same drive by making two catches for 37 yards.

Kyle Williams’ play was one of the few bright spots for the Buffalo Bills in Sunday’s game versus the New Orleans Saints. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle — USA Today Sports)

Kyle Williams

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams had a significant game this Sunday, recording 1.5 sacks and nine combined tackles. His solo sack and another tackle for a loss both came on third downs, forcing punts following each play. Williams’ consistent pressure was a huge asset to the Bills defense Sunday.

Brian Moorman

Bills punter Brian Moorman saw the least amount of field time this Sunday since being resigned earlier this month. Moorman only punted three times against the Saints, compared to seven against the Miami Dolphins and five in his first game back against the Cincinnati Bengals. In his limited work, Moorman averaged 45.7 yards per punt, none of which were returned for any yards. After some abysmal play by Shawn Powell and the punt team earlier this season, Moorman and the punt coverage unit have been doing well.

Flags

Thad Lewis

Lewis proved himself this week. Proved that he is a backup NFL quarterback, that is. Lewis turned the ball over three times, two in the form of fumbles in the first quarter, and also threw an interception in the fourth quarter (as mentioned earlier, he also had a third fumble recovered by Legursky).

Down 21-10 going into the second half, the Bills looked to Lewis to spark a comeback. However, Lewis consistently sailed passes over receivers’ heads and was inconsistent.

To be fair to Lewis, he was absolutely crushed by Saints linebacker David Hawthorne on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Lewis lost the ball but also went down on the play and appeared to be significantly injured. When he finally walked off the field, it looked like backup quarterback Jeff Tuel was going to helm the offense for the remainder of the game, but instead Lewis came back in and did not miss a single offensive play the entire game, even after continuing to take some considerable hits.

Though admirable in his dedication to the team, Lewis lacked the throws and skills needed for the Bills to pull off an upset.

Doug Marrone needs to assess his criteria for challenging plays after wasting two timeouts Sunday. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle — USA Today Sports)

Doug Marrone’s Challenges

Head coach Doug Marrone challenged two plays this Sunday, neither of which reversed the calls in question.

The first challenge came on a2nd-and-goal run in the fourth quarter from running back Fred Jackson where the call on the field said he was short of the goal line by inches, but Marrone decided to challenge that Jackson broke the plane. In the replays, it was seemingly impossible to tell where the ball or Jackson were, and the ruling on the field was upheld, costing Buffalo their first timeout of the second half. Jackson promptly scored on the next play.

On the ensuing Saints drive, Marrone challenged a similar call on a 3rd-and-1 run by Saints’ running back Pierre Thomas. The call on the field was a first down, and this ruling too was upheld as it was difficult to spot the ball on replay review. This cost Buffalo their second timeout, and the Buffalo defense went on to hold the Saints offense and force a punt on the next set of downs.

In the matter of less than two minutes, Marrone cost the Bills two timeouts. With an 0-3 record on challenges thus far this season, Marrone acknowledged after the game that he “needs to change his process on challenges,” according to WKBW’s Jeff Russo.

Big Plays Allowed By Defense

Drew Brees started the game off slowly and did not find his rhythm until connecting with Saints rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills for a 69-yard touchdown with less than four minutes to play in the first half. A blown coverage left Bills linebacker/defensive end Jerry Hughes to cover Stills, a huge mismatch that Brees capitalized upon.

The Bills defense looked solid for most of the game, forcing four sacks and seven tackles for losses, but this touchdown, along with a second touchdown connection of 42 yards between Brees and Stills, was costly. Brees eventually hit his stride to finish the game with 332 passing yards, five touchdowns and just eight incompletions on 34 passing attempts, and the big plays were a catalyst for his success.

If the defense did not allow the two big plays to Stills, the game could have been much more reasonable and allowed the Bills a better chance of remaining competitive.

Summary

There was not a whole lot of positives to take away from this game for the Bills, as this was the first time all season that Buffalo truly got flat out beat.

In their first seven games of the season, the Bills were within reach of the win in the fourth quarter of every game, sometimes pulling off a victory (see: Week 2 vs. Carolina Panthers, Week 7 vs. Miami Dolphins) and sometimes they did not (see: Week 1 vs. New England Patriots, Week 6 vs. Cincinnati Bengals).  That was not the case Sunday. The Bills were down 11 at halftime and never got any closer in the second half to Drew Brees and the Saints, a Super Bowl-caliber team.

As Dan Hope’s postgame column elaborated upon, Sunday’s game showed that the Bills, given their current active players, are not a playoff contender.

When EJ Manuel, C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson are all back out on the offense, this team could turn into something special; that might not happen this season, but there are glimmers of hope that make the future look bright for the Buffalo Bills, even in defeat Sunday.

Tags: Brian Moorman, Doug Marrone, Drew Brees, First Downs and Flags, Game Reviews, Kenny Stills, Kyle Williams, New Orleans Saints, Postgame Takeaways, Scott Chandler, Stevie Johnson, Thad Lewis, Week 8

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