Buffalo Bills: 2013 Week 8 BUF at NOR

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?

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's Doug Marrone
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images"I am fired up to get back and start coaching and get this thing right," Bills coach Doug Marrone said after the loss at New Orleans.
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."

Lewis hangs tough, but can't match Brees

October, 27, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- It was a hit that knocked the wind out of Thad Lewis and almost took the air out of the Buffalo Bills' sails, just one play into their biggest road test of the season.

Lewis, the starting quarterback only after an injury to EJ Manuel, took a jarring hit from behind on the first play of the Bills' 35-17 loss Sunday in New Orleans, staying on the ground for over a minute before coming to his feet.

Although the ball squirted loose and was recovered by the Saints, Lewis remarkably did not miss an offensive play. Two weeks after playing through a foot injury that left him with a bad limp afterward, Lewis showed Sunday the grit that has in some ways defined the Bills' season.

"There was no doubt in my mind that after the very first hit that I was going back in the game," he said. "It's like you're going to battle. You're either going to turn your back on them or you're continue to fight for them. That's my mentality and I'm going to keep it that way."

It's a mentality that seems to have spread across the Bills this season, one that has featured significant injuries -- more than just nicks and bruises -- to almost every one of its key players.

[+] EnlargeThad Lewis
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints' pass rush kept Thad Lewis under pressure much of the day, sacking him four times.
"The [toughness of the] coaching staff and the whole team, it just rubs off on us," Lewis said.

"I know [Lewis] was hurting. A lot of guys were hurting," wide receiver Stevie Johnson said. "We wouldn't expect anything less from Thad [to return]. This is an opportunity... unless it was a broken leg, I'm sure he'd be out there. That's the type of guy that he is. He's ready to fight for his boys."

Healthy or not, however, Lewis was overmatched Sunday.

It's no fault of his own. For starting a quarterback who wasn't on their roster for most of the preseason, the Bills are doing about as well as any team could hope. But unless they got help from defense or special teams, they weren't going to win a shootout with Drew Brees.

Indeed, a shootout it became. After the defense was able to make some early stops, the Saints' offense kicked into gear late in the second quarter, more than doubling their yard total on a 69-yard touchdown catch by Kenny Stills.

Brees finished 26-for-34 for 332 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions, along with a sizzling 146.1 QB rating.

"We know the type of offense they have," Johnson said. "I don't want to say that no team can shut them out, but we had to hope to contain them and offensively we had to put up points. I felt like our defense did [well] for the most part. We have to pick up the slack a little more."

If the Bills' offense wants to someday go toe-to-toe with Brees, one area where they can improve is in pass protection. Lewis was sacked four times Sunday and hit numerous other times. His first fumble came on a designed run, but his second came on a 13-yard sack by defensive end Cameron Jordan.

"There's nothing you can do about it when you are about to throw the football and a guy is standing there and hits you," Lewis said. "Yeah, the first was on me but the next ones when you get a little pressure and you get ready to throw the football, the defense just makes a great play."

Head coach Doug Marrone said the Bills used more "zero" coverage -- a blitz look with no zone coverage in the middle of the field -- than they were expected.

"They brought some blitzes," center Eric Wood said. "But it was nothing that we were unprepared for, I don't think. Nothing we shouldn't have been able to handle."

"It was a little more than what we expected," Lewis said. "But they weren't tipping their hand. So they weren't showing us they were in zero-blitzes. It was after the snap."

Overall, Lewis has been sacked 13 times since taking over the starting job three weeks ago.

"There's protection break downs in our end," Wood said. "And [Lewis] is trying to make some plays with his legs. We went the last couple years in the bottom of the league in sack numbers and we didn't get wins. I think he's just trying to make more plays."

Lewis wasn't able to connect on any completions longer than 26 yards Sunday, one reason why the Bills couldn't keep pace with the Saints, dropping them to 3-5 on the season.

"You can't win without making plays," Lewis said. "If we made more plays, the score might have been different."

Locker Room Buzz: Buffalo Bills

October, 27, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- Observed in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 35-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

Goodwin has elbow injury: One late-game injury that flew under the radar: Rookie wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was carted off in the fourth quarter with what the team said is an elbow injury. Doctors spoke after the game with Goodwin, who dressed himself with just his right arm. Goodwin was the last player to leave the locker room after the game, and his status going forward remains unclear. Goodwin had three catches for 56 yards in the loss.

Marrone to review challenge procedure: Bills head coach Doug Marrone challenged two ball spots in the second half and lost both. He falls to 0-for-3 on the season for his challenges. Prior to Sunday, the Bills were just one of six teams not to have won a challenge. Marrone said after the game that he needs to change how he decides to challenge a play. "I have to do a better job of changing the process of our challenges," he said. "We haven't been successful in that. If we keep it the same, how do I expect that to change? We'll look into that. ... It's my fault. Period. I am the head coach."

Robey downplays officiating: In addition to Marrone's two challenges, there were a fair share of close calls made against each team Sunday. The home crowd, for example, let the officials hear it after two roughing-the-passer calls against the Saints late in the third quarter, helping lead to a Bills touchdown. But Bills rookie cornerback Nickell Robey said he didn't have any qualms with other penalties that fell against Buffalo. "The refs let us play today," Robey said. "I wouldn't put anything on the refs. They let us play aggressive, they let us play hard. No knock on them today. We just have to come out and finish."

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

October, 27, 2013

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 35-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: This was a "measuring stick" game for the Bills, and one in which the outcome wasn't necessarily unexpected. The Saints, at 6-1, are one of the NFL's best teams. The Bills, with a first-year coach and a fill-in starting quarterback, aren't quite there. What the Bills did show, however, is some resilience. After giving the Saints an early scare on their home field, the Bills got punched in the gut by Drew Brees and the Saints' offense, but they stayed competitive throughout this game. That's a good sign for Doug Marrone's group.

Fast start fizzles: The Bills had things going in the first half. Their defense held the Saints to a field goal attempt (which they missed) after Thad Lewis lost a fumble on the first play of the game. They then forced Brees into a three-and-out on their second possession. Offensively, Fred Jackson gained 42 yards on his first five carries. Then the tide turned. Jackson gained a total of just 3 yards on his next 10 carries, while the defense allowed a 69-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter that opened the floodgates.

Stock watch: Falling: offensive line. While the Bills actually allowed as many sacks (four) as the Saints did in this game, it never seemed like Lewis was comfortable throwing in the pocket. He took some big hits after throws early in the game as the pass protection broke down. Part of it might be some hesitation to throw from Lewis, but the Bills have struggled to keep Lewis upright. He's been sacked 13 times in his three games as the starter. For all the injuries the Bills have endured this season, the offensive line has gone virtually unscathed. There haven't been major breakdowns, but their performances could be more consistent.

What's next: The Bills drop to 3-5 and remain in fourth place in the AFC East. They'll return home next Sunday to face the NFL's last undefeated team, the Kansas City Chiefs (8-0).