NEW ORLEANS — Yeah, it was a loss, but was it a bad one?
To be sure, the final score — Saints 35, Bills 17 — says Buffalo was pretty well handled on Sunday afternoon at the Superdome.
Yet the fact the Bills were an 11-point underdog speaks to the fact New Orleans is one of the NFL’s elite teams.
And playing in a loud, soldout stadium where the Saints have now won a dozen straight, the league’s third-youngest team, starting a quarterback who was on the practice squad less than three weeks ago, was a daunting task.
A win in that circumstance was a pipe dream.
The question is, was the 18-point loss devastating?
Buffalo’s Thad Lewis, coming off his third start as a Bill, maintained, “We’re a resilient team.
“We’re not going to make any excuses and I have to take my hat off to the Saints as they did a great job and beat us today. But ... “
What Lewis didn’t say is this is also a team of confidence.
And even though Buffalo fell to 3-5 at the season’s midway point, coach Doug Marrone’s crew can’t wait to face 8-0 Kansas City on Sunday at “The Ralph.”
After that the Bills’ schedule has them at Pittsburgh (2-5), home with the Jets (4-4) and Falcons (2-5), at Tampa Bay (0-7) and Jacksonville (0-8), home with Miami (3-4) and at New England (6-2) to finish the season.
There are six winnable games for Buffalo in that stretch ... though it could also lose every one of them.
THE POINT IS, the difference in Sunday’s game, ultimately, was a quarterback.
Nothing against Lewis, thrown into a tough situation.
He was a respectable 22-of-39 passing for 234 yards with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson and an interception and a passer rating of 72.0. He was also sacked four times and had three fumbles, two of which Buffalo lost.
Then there was his New Orleans counterpart, Drew Brees.
The 34-year-old veteran of 13 seasons came in the No. 5-ranked passer in the NFL with a 102.6 rating, 14 touchdown passes and five picks.
Against the Bills, he merely inflated those numbers.
Brees threw five TD tosses — two each to wide receiver Kenny Stills, a rookie, and Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, and one to wideout Lance Moore — hit 26-of-34 throws, with no interceptions and had a gaudy passer rating of 146.1, not far from a perfect 158.3.
The only blemish on his afternoon was being sacked four times, though they had no effect as the Saints won the turnover battle, 3-0.
AFTERWARD, Buffalo’s defenders were impressed.
Safety Jim Leonhard noted of Brees, “He’s as accurate as they come. He’s frustrating because you can play a good down ... and still get beat.
“He got out of the pocket a couple of times and just made great plays ... great plays under pressure.
“The Saints are a match-up team and that’s what Brees does ... he sits back and spreads it around (10 players caught passes against Buffalo). They just made too many big plays against us ... and that’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”
And one of the Bills’ victims was end Jerry Hughes, who got caught in a matchup with the speedy Stills and was beaten for a 69-yard touchdown, Brees’ longest connection of the season.
“I had my eyes in the backfield and he just took off,” Hughes recalled. “It was an unfortunate mistake on my part. When you have an elite quarterback like (Brees), he’s gonna find that ... it’s a mistake you can’t make.
“We can’t give him too much to work with. The defensive line did get some pressure on him (with those four sacks)... but we have to do a better job in coverage.”
Marrone, who served three seasons as offensive coordinator under Saints’ coach Sean Payton with Brees as QB, noted, “Everyone knows my relationship with him. The one thing about (Drew) is that he’s a veteran guy, one of the top (quarterbacks) in the league ... he always finds those (open) guys.”
He did against Buffalo, and now the Bills have a week to prepare for their second-half push and prove that yesterday was an aberration.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)