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Saints' defense on the ball in a lockdown performance

It's not often New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith finds himself with a football in his hands, but there he was, leaping higher than he has since the NFL Combine to snare an interception of a deflected third-quarter pass.

It's not often that Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams finds himself with a football in his hands, but there he was, accepting a game ball in the postgame locker room, after the franchise he once coached was held without an offensive score in a 27-7 New Orleans victory.

And it's not often -- almost never -- that Terrell Owens finds himself without a football in his hands, but there he was, at the podium, giving terse answers to questions concerning the expiration of his streak of 185 games without a reception. Like this is why he opted to become a Buffalo Bill?

Offense was the topic of the week, and understandably so, as the high-powered Saints prepared to enter The Ralph on Sunday. Quarterback Drew Brees already had thrown nine touchdown passes, was on pace to obliterate Dan Marino's single-season yardage record.

The betting line over-under was set at 52, and that high-end figure had little to do with the Bills. But, in the end, it was the New Orleans defense that warranted acclaim for a dominating performance that suggests this is a team with Super Bowl potential.

The Bills mustered all of 243 yards, went 2 for 14 on third down, and surrendered four sacks of quarterback Trent Edwards as the Saints pressured him with alacrity. The Bills' longest play of the day came on a 25-yard touchdown connection between punter Brian Moorman and defensive end Ryan Denney off a fake field goal. Only one second-half possession lasted longer than five plays.

If last week's win over Tampa Bay suggested the Bills were primed for an offensive resurgence, this game revealed they're still a long way from producing significant points against quality opposition.

Doubtless Williams had his troops armed and ready for his return to Buffalo. He also had the full backing of head coach Sean Payton, who during the week challenged his defense to play to its capability after allowing 27 and 22 points in victories over Detroit and Philadelphia.

"He pretty much said that we have to affect this game," Smith said. "And as you could see today, we did."

Buffalo wideouts Owens and Lee Evans were reduced to nonfactors. Evans caught four balls for 31 yards, a paltry 7.8 average. It wasn't exactly the kind of production the Bills front office envisioned when it added T.O. to the mix on the far side of Evans.

Owens had five balls thrown his way, dropped one of them, but was otherwise a token fixture. Slot receiver Josh Reed and tight end Derek Fine became the mainstays in the receiving game, with the Saints highly agreeable to their participation. Neither possesses the big-play potential of either of the wideouts.

"I thought that both [Jabari] Greer and [Tracy] Porter, the two corners, should be commended on what they did today," said Saints backup safety Pierson Prioleau, a former Bill. "And it's not just taking Terrell out of the game because they have other receivers, too. The goal is not to stop one guy from getting a catch, but it is a great job by the two corners if he didn't get a catch."

"The way the defensive line pressured the quarterback, the way the linebackers took away the underneath, it all works hand in hand," said Greer, who left the Bills for the Saints in free agency after last season. "To say us as a secondary shut him out would be a little selfish. I know that in this game one good play often shadows the real work. And I think if you [say] that we shut him down I think that overshadows the way the defensive line allowed that to happen."
This was the kind of game the Saints of last year might well have frittered away. Buffalo's defense was up to the task of holding Brees & Co. in check. New Orleans held a slim 10-7 lead until tailback Pierre Thomas broke off a 34-yard touchdown run with 9:45 left in the fourth quarter.
"It was totally a team effort," Greer said. "We didn't fall back, didn't let up. Showed great resilience, great resolve. I'm proud of these guys the way the defensive line got after the quarterback, the way the linebackers secured the tackles."
"They have the young offensive line," Smith said. "They're very talented, but they're making a lot of mistakes and getting a lot of pressure. So we knew coming in that we felt as if we had an advantage today of our defensive line versus their offensive line. If we didn't come out of this game making any plays we would have been very disappointed."
The Saints were anything but disappointed. In fact, they had themselves a ball.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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