NEW ORLEANS – Ed Oliver had his reasons to play well Thursday night, and the defensive tackle had receipts.
“I get in front of my folks and it's like, 'Well, I paid for all these tickets for all of them to come in, so I've gotta go hard.' Otherwise I'm wasting money really,” the Bills' defensive tackle said.
He estimated he bought 40 tickets for family from around Louisiana.
“So I basically played for free. My mom was in the box so I played for free,” he said. “But I know they appreciate it.”
In the 31-6 routing of the Saints on Thursday, the Bills' defense got big stops early, and they did so on a short week following a thrashing by the Colts. The run defense in particular bounced back in stuffing New Orleans.
The Bills allowed just 44 rushing yards, their lowest of the season. They did so without defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who missed a third game while on the Reserve/Covid list. The Saints were of course without standout backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II. Even so, the Bills held them to just 1.8 yards per carry, the lowest by a Bills opponent with 25 or more attempts since 2003.
Running back Tony Jones Jr. led the Saints with 27 yards on 16 carries. His longest run of the day, good for 11 yards, came with two minutes left in the game. The Bills plan to remember all the statistics more than the players who did, or didn’t, compile them.
“If they've got a running back back there, this is the NFL. He deserves to be there,” defensive end Mario Addison said. “So it doesn't matter who is back there. It's a running back we're going to have to stop no matter who is back there. And I think we did a tremendous job doing it.”
Some of it came from deep reflecting. After giving up a whopping 264 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground last week to the Jonathan Taylor-led Colts, the Bills got introspective. Consider that Taylor had 46 yards himself in the first quarter Sunday.
“We knew the way we played the last game it wasn't us,” Addison said.
He felt they needed a fast start to prove that. A three-and-out on the Saints’ opening drive set the right tone.
Addison had addressed the defensive line earlier in the week, and he felt they came in with the right mindset.
“By the way they played, the message hit home, right?” coach Sean McDermott said. “And that's what I expected, to be honest with you. That's what veteran leaders do – they lead by their play. The physicality of our defense, I thought, was where it needed to be.”
It wasn’t just veterans, though. McDermott said Oliver brought some juice, and it led to a moment he’d been waiting for.
An actual, official sack has evaded Oliver all season. Multiple times he has brought a quarterback down to the ground, only for it to be called back. He has been conditioned to the point that he was afraid to trust that this time, it was real.
But on Thursday night, in front of his family, friends and the 69,130 other fans at the Superdome, Oliver got that sweet, elusive sack.
“It felt great,” he said. “They've taken so many away from me ... I thought they were going to take that one away because I hit him kind of low and I said, 'Oh well there goes another one.' So just to get one on the board was a monkey off my back. Last week when I got one and it didn't count, I was like, 'Man forget it. I'm not even going to worry about it anymore.' Then lo and behold, I got another one and it counted."
The was a slight caveat: The four-yard sack was officially credited as a split between Oliver and teammate Efe Obada. Just don’t tell that to Oliver.
“Oh, we're going to have to turn that in,” Oliver said. “My first one didn't come in as a half. No, no, no. But that's cool, though. I'm not tripping.”
Addison had the other sack for the Bills defense, a nine-yard loss on third-and-2. He also had a big tackle for loss when the Saints went for it on fourth-and-2.
“(Trevor) Siemian snapped the ball and it happened so fast, some guys didn't move,” Addison said. “So we thought somebody was offsides. Then I saw Ed shoot the gap, and Ed made him bounce to me and while I was going in for the tackle he kind of stiff-armed me a little. But I kept crawling and scratching and when he fell to the ground I was happy as hell.”
Saints center Erik McCoy took responsibility for the play, telling New Orleans media that he snapped it early. McCoy noted the Saints "got their butts beat" throughout the game.
Addison said that’s when he really felt the Buffalo fans take over.
Now, it’s about the Bills playing at a level that maintains what they showed Thursday. The Bills sit at 7-4 after another blowout, but their physicality has waived throughout the season. Their statement wins have come after demoralizing losses, as they moved to 4-0 after losses.
“We've got a good team, got a (darn) good team,” Addison said. “But sometimes we don't play like it. So the thing we've got to do is play more consistent ball. We've just got to find a way to play consistent ball.”