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Bills have no answers against swarming Saints

The way the Buffalo Bills lost to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday should come as no shock.

Was it a surprise the Bills held Saints quarterback Drew Brees without a touchdown pass? Yes.

Was it a surprise the Bills held Brees to his lowest passing total -- 172 yards -- in 34 games? Absolutely.

But when your offensive line is the youngest since leather helmets went out of fashion (and that might not even be an exaggeration), your attack is going to have some rough days.

And when you change offensive coordinators 10 days before the start of the season, there will be some big bumps in the road.

The Bills' offense came crashing down to earth in a 27-7 loss to the Saints before 70,261 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"I think our defense played great, they kept us in the game the whole time, and we gave them no help," running back Fred Jackson said.

The Bills didn't get the ball to Terrell Owens. He saw his 185-game consecutive catch streak come to an end. They barely got it to Lee Evans. He caught four passes for 31 yards.

Trent Edwards passed for just 156 yards, was sacked four times and was hit 14 others.

The Bills had six three-and-out drives and were 2 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Bills offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt accepted the blame for the futility of the attack.

"I didn't do a good job upstairs adjusting to what we were seeing," Van Pelt said. "That's probably the first place to start."

New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the former Bills head coach, switched his scheme for the game to a 3-4 front. The Saints usually are a four-man line, although they played a few 3-4 snaps in their season opener.

Williams used zone blitzes relentlessly, sending linebackers and cornerbacks on the rush play after play. He mixed a traditional 3-4 front with a three-man line that used a stand-up defensive end.

The Saints (3-0) gave Williams a game ball in the locker room afterward.

"I have to do a better job adjusting to what we were getting," Van Pelt said. "It was one of those days where he was going to pressure us almost every snap. I have to have better answers than I did."

Van Pelt said the 3-4 front was not the problem.

"We prepped all that for New England [in Week One]," Van Pelt said. "We were ready for all that. That was not an issue."

The zone blitzes, however, gave the Bills fits.

"They gave us more than we anticipated," Van Pelt said. "I have to do a better job of finding ways to get that defeated, which we didn't do."

The Saints went into the game thinking their veteran defensive linemen could handle the Bills' front five. Buffalo had three linemen making just their third pro start (Eric Wood, Andy Levitre and Demetrius Bell) and a fourth making just his seventh pro start (Jonathan Scott).

"They're a no-huddle team, and we made a big emphasis this week on the defensive line," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "And I felt like we had an edge in that area. We challenged them [his defensive linemen] and I was really pleased as the game went on, how we controlled the line of scrimmage."

"Obviously there's going to be some growing pains, and they will just keep getting better," coach Dick Jauron said of the offensive line. "But they're going to struggle. . . . It wasn't pretty. I was proud of the way they fought."

The Saints did not sit in a Cover 2 defense, with safeties over the top of both Evans and Owens all day. But when they did gamble and rush six men, Edwards did not have time to wait for downfield routes to develop.

"When they do close the middle, we have to get the ball to Terrell and Lee," Van Pelt said. "And I've got to find better ways to get those guys involved in the pass game, no question."

The Bills' lone touchdown came via special teams, on a fake field goal. Holder Brian Moorman perfectly executed a fake, rolled to his left and passed down the sideline to defensive end Ryan Denney for a 25-yard touchdown. It tied the game, 7-7, early in the second quarter.

"I lined up in the wing position on [the] left-hand side," Denney said. "Rian [Lindell] fakes the kick so the defenders' attention is drawn to the block point, and Brian is able to roll out and make the pass. . . . We've had this in for a couple years and this was the first time we ran it."

The Bills still were within 10-7 late in the third quarter when they made a key turnover. The Bills marched from their own 3 to the Saints' 27. On a third-and-3 play, Edwards tried to force the ball to Owens on a slant route. Saints cornerback Jabari Greer read the play and got a hand on the ball. It popped way in the air and was intercepted by the Saints' Will Smith.

"It's just a simple slant play, and Jabari just kind of squatted on it," Edwards said.

Two drives later, the Bills tried to capitalize on Greer's aggressiveness. On third-and-3 from the Buffalo 28, Owens beat Greer deep on a fake slant and go route for what could have been a touchdown. But Edwards' pass was too long. The Bills had to punt.

"The wind was kind of swirling a little bit like normal," Edwards said. "That direction throwing it usually it kind of kills the ball a little bit. When I let it go I felt pretty good, but I guess [there] wasn't enough air under it, and unfortunately it was a little bit out of his reach."
That turned out to be the Bills' last good chance. The Bills' defense tired.

The Saints got a 34-yard TD run from Pierre Thomas to go ahead, 17-7 with 9:45 to go. John Carney kicked a field goal to make it 20-7 with 3:21 left.

The Bills (1-2) travel to Miami (0-3) next week.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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