NEW ORLEANS — Some leftover observations from the Bills’ 35-17 loss to the Saints on Sunday afternoon at the Superdome:
— The bane of wannabe NFL teams is penalties and turnovers.
Buffalo, which came into the game +5 in takeaway/giveaway — the same as New Orleans — lost that battle in the game, 3-0.
Quarterback Thad Lewis threw an interception and fumbled three times, losing two. But, in fairness, the last two weren’t his fault, but rather protection breakdowns as he was trying to throw.
Buffalo, meanwhile, never generated a turnover.
Worse, though, were two killer penalties that impacted 14 points.
The first came with the Saints leading 14-10 and 49 seconds to play in the first half.
Bills’ cornerback Leodis McKelvin appeared to have averted a widening deficit when he intercepted a Drew Brees pass in the end zone. In addition, New Orleans tackle Charles Brown was called for holding. However, not immediately noticed was a flag on the Bills’ Mario Williams for grabbing the facemask.
The offsetting penalties wiped out the interception and two snaps and 14 seconds later, Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 15-yard score that, in effect, said, “Game Over.”
Williams’ penalty cost Buffalo a surrendered TD.
The other fateful call was equally punitive, but in a different way.
Late in the third quarter, with the Bills down 28-10, Lewis connected with wide receiver T.J. Graham on a pretty 55-yard touchdown. But, alas, tight end Scott Chandler was called for holding, wiping out the TD.
Buffalo still ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive, thanks to two ridiculous third-down roughting-the-passer calls against New Orleans cornerback Corey White that kept the possession alive. But, the penalty against Chandler kept the drive alive for another four minutes, wasting valuable time for a team that was well behind.
— Lewis’ stats weren’t exceptional — 22-of-39 passing for 234 yards with a touchdown and an interception and a rating of 72.0 — but his toughness was never a question.
On the game’s first play, he ran a read-option and was blasted by Saints’ linebacker David Hawthorne, fumbling the ball away. After the hit, Lewis didn’t move and seemed to have suffered a major injury as he was helped from the field.
But, when the Saints wasted a possession that started at the Buffalo 22, he was back on the field, merely having had the wind knocked out of him.
Lewis went on to be sacked four times and was hit nine on nine occasions ... about once every four dropbacks.
“The Saints kept coming and that’s what led to some early turnover,” he admitted. “There’s nothing you can do about (fumbles) when you’re about to throw the football and a guy is standing there and hits you. The first (fumble) was on me, but the next ones, when you get a little pressure and you get ready to throw ... the defense just makes a great play.”
And wideout Stevie Johnson, who had Buffalo’s lone touchdown catch and limped visibly with a leg problem most of the game, was impressed by Lewis’ resilience.
“Most of us got dinged up out there, but had to play through it,” he said. “It just showed (Lewis’’) toughness today. We all knew he took some really hard hits. But he’s a real tough guy because I knew he was hurting out there.”
— If there was any question about Brees’ standing among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, Sunday’s game was a reminder.
He was 26-of-34 passing for 332 yards with five touchdown tosses and no interceptions with a 146.1 passer rating. Perfect is 158.3.
But even more impressively, he completed passes to 10 different receivers and on six of them he was perfect: 16 targets, 16 completions (running back Darren Sproles (4-for-4), tight ends Graham and Ben Watson, plus running back Pierre Thomas (3-for-3), tight end Josh Hill (2-for-2) and fullback Jed Collins (1-for-1).
And that was no surprise to Graham.
“It’s what’s great about being here,” he said of playing in New Orleans. “Drew is going to throw it to the open guy ... going to find that one-on-one matchup. He goes through his reads all the time.”
Spoiler alert: Probably because of the Saints’ passing proficiency, New Orleans doesn’t run the ball very effectively (22nd in the NFL). Against Buffalo, Thomas’ 65 yards (on 14 carries) were a season high by a back in a single game.
If the Saints get into a playoff situation where the weather is poor, and the air game is blunted, they could be in trouble.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)