The Buffalo Bills' defense played the NFL's most prolific offense to a standstill for three quarters on Sunday.
But in the end, a valiant effort went for naught as the Bills' defenders ultimately wore down against the New Orleans Saints in a 27-7 loss.
It looked as if it would be a long day for the Bills' defense when the Saints marched 82 yards for a touchdown on their first possession. But the attack that averaged 46.5 points in its previous two games struggled to sustain drives.
A Bills defense that entered the game ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards allowed held Saints quarterback Drew Brees to nearly half his season's average (172 yards).
The Bills sacked Brees, who was sacked just 13 times in 635 pass attempts last season, twice and pressured him into some rushed throws. One of the sacks came from defensive end Aaron Schobel, who forced a fumble. The Bills relied mostly on a four-man rush and flooded the secondary with defenders.
"We were playing a lot of three-deep, trying to take the deep ball away," Bills cornerback Terrence McGee said. "We knew they were going to make some plays. Their offense is too good. But at the same time, I think we did a good job of getting the stops that we needed until towards the end."
Although the Bills limited New Orleans' passing attack, they had no answer for its running game, which rolled up 222 yards and 5.8 per carry.
Running back Pierre Thomas did the most damage, rushing for 126 yards in the second half and scoring a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter against an obviously weary Bills' defense.
"When running the ball it doesn't matter what you do through the air," defensive end Chris Kelsay said. "When teams can't stop the run, they are controlling the clock, they're keeping our offense off the field and that's what they did today."
It might have helped the Bills' defense if it got just a little support from the offense, which was mediocre and failed to reach the end zone.
Another game, another rash of injuries for the Bills, who had four starters leave the game Sunday.
Cornerback Leodis McKelvin left after aggravating a fibula injury in the second quarter. He initially hurt his leg last Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Free safety Donte Whitner suffered a right thumb injury late in the fourth quarter, and was wearing a soft cast in the locker room. Strong safety Bryan Scott went down a few plays later with a sprained ankle. Left tackle Demetrius Bell also left the game in the final quarter with a groin problem.
Head coach Dick Jauron did not elaborate on the injuries.
Injuries have been a recurring theme for the Bills as they have lost at least one starter in each of the first three games. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny suffered a broken arm in the opener at New England and right tackle Brad Butler was lost for the season with a knee injury against Tampa Bay.
Wide receiver Lee Evans moved past TE Pete Metzelaars into fourth place on the Bills' career receptions list. He finished the game with four catches, giving him 304 overall.
Brian Moorman's second touchdown pass to Ryan Denney in as many years made him the third punter with at least a pair of TD throws. Chicago's Brad Maynard (in 2001 and 2002) and Cincinnati's Lee Johnson (1990 and 1994) are the others.
Moorman has two of the seven Bills touchdowns not thrown by a quarterback.
Roscoe Parrish pulled double duty on special teams, returning both kickoffs and punts. But he didn't have a good day on either chore.
He averaged 22.2 yards on five kickoffs, but returned three punts for minus-1 yard and had a fumble that the Saints recovered. He did break Jeff Burris' team record with his 101st career punt return.
Rookie tight end Shawn Nelson (shoulder) and defensive tackle John McCargo (quad) sat out with injuries.
They joined Posluszny on the injured inactive list. Wide receiver Justin Jenkins, cornerback Ellis Lankster, offensive lineman Jamon Meredith and defensive end Chris Ellis were healthy scratches.
The Saints were without leading rusher Mike Bell, who suffered a sprained knee last week. Other notable New Orleans inactives were Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown and wide receiver Lance Moore.