NEW ORLEANS -- No matter how you slice it, the Buffalo Bills lost on Sunday. Badly.
Turning the ball over in your own territory twice in the first quarter isn't a way to win. Nor is allowing an opposing quarterback to throw for five touchdowns and no interceptions, as Drew Brees did in the Saints' 35-17 win over the Bills in New Orleans.
But if there was one game on the schedule this season that the Bills shouldn't be too broken up about being defeated, this was it.
In many ways, their trip to New Orleans to face the 6-1 Saints was a checkpoint for first-year head coach Doug Marrone. Had he built his program well enough in his first 10 months on the job for his team to hang tough, or even pull out a win?
The latter question was answered with a convincing "no" on Sunday, but that's not to say his team isn't on the right track. They are.
If nothing else, their loss to the Saints shows the Bills how they stack up against the league's elite.
"It was more of a learning experience than a loss," cornerback Nickell Robey said after the game.
Robey, who stands at just 5-foot-7 but is as confident as undrafted rookies come, expounded on his glass-half-full viewpoint of the loss.
"When we make our mind up, we're going to be a good team," he said. "We have to come out ... we have to finish the game. Once we know how to finish a game, be poised, and know how to handle certain situations we're going to be a great team."
However, there is only a certain level of patience that can be had with a young, developing team like the Bills. At some point, they need to win a game like that against the Saints. In the NFL, the window to go from worst-to-first can last only two or three seasons for some top-level football decision makers.
So it's understandable that Doug Marrone had higher expectations for the Bills' trip to New Orleans, and a greater sense of urgency as they return home next Sunday to face the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
"I told the players, 'Does it hurt? Absolutely.' We had a great opportunity. We had the opportunity because we did a heck of a job last week, and now we come on the road again and we fell short," he said. "We are going to fire our butts off now. We have to get back and we have to go in and play a good Kansas City team. It's a great challenge for us. We are going to have to go in and beat them and then create another opportunity somewhere else in the schedule. I am fired up about it. I am fired up to get back and start coaching and get this thing right."
The Bills hung tough during a game when other teams may have given up. Now they just need to get over the hump.
"We're a resilient team," quarterback Thad Lewis said. "We're not going to make any excuses. But being resilient isn't good enough. We're never satisfied with that."
They've made good progress to this point from where they ended last season, but at 3-5, the Bills still need to be careful not to slide too far in the wrong direction; the NFL is just too unforgiving.
"That is a playoff team we played. That is a good football team that we played," Marrone said. "You can't make mistakes like we did. You never know when it's going to come out. You never know when it's going to hurt you. [Today], they did hurt us pretty good."