NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees scrambled to his right, barely escaping the oncoming pressure of several Buffalo Bills defenders.
At the last minute, he spied rookie receiver Kenny Stills in single coverage in the end zone and rifled the ball his way.
For the second time in two games, Stills made a third-and-20 touchdown grab with a defender glued to him.
Only this time, his fourth quarter touchdown put the game away instead of briefly giving the team a lead like he did against the Patriots.
In New Orleans’ first game since losing that heartbreaker to New England, Stills’ score finished off Buffalo, giving the Saints their final points in a 35-17 win Sunday.
Brees threw five touchdowns, the seventh time as a Saint with at least that many, the defense forced three turnovers and New Orleans improved to 6-1 in spite of allowing four sacks and committing eight penalties.
“It’s weird where we’re happy with the victory,” said Brees, who finished 26 of 34 for 332 yards and a 146.1 QB rating. “Not everything is always going to be perfect but some of the same things continue to show up, the slow start.”
For just the second time this season, Buffalo was held to fewer than 100 yards rushing and Lewis, in his fourth career start, finished 22 of 39 for 234 yards and a 72 quarterback rating.
Stills played a large part of breaking out of that slow start.
Despite forcing two fumbles on Buffalo’s first three series – both Thad Lewis fumbles caused by big hits by David Hawthorne and Cameron Jordan – the Saints had only a 7-0 lead to show for it on 15-yard Lance Moore touchdown catch.
The Bills (3-5) scored 10 straight points on a Stevie Johnson 13-yard scoring grab and a 37-yard Dan Carpenter field goal.
In two plays, however, the Saints turned the story of the game from one that could have gotten away to one in which they won sloppily.
First, Brees hit Benjamin Watson for a 17-yard gain. Then, on the very next play, he found Stills behind Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes. The rookie receiver caught the pass and sprinted the rest of the way for a 69-yard touchdown that gave New Orleans a lead it would never relinquish.
The defense held on the next series, forcing a three-and-out and the offense responded once more, this time the injured Jimmy Graham catching the first of his two touchdowns to give New Orleans a 21-10 halftime lead.
“Those were important,” coach Sean Payton said of the back-to-back touchdowns. “Up until that point, we had done a number of things poorly. Credit Buffalo, they made plays when they needed to and went ahead.”
New Orleans’ defense made the scores stand, allowing the Bills just 138 second-half yards and just one more score, a one-yard run by Fred Jackson that cut New Orleans’ lead to 28-17.
It was after Jackson’s score that Brees found Stills for his second score.
“He is as accurate as they come,” Bills safety Jim Leonhard said. “And it’s frustrating because you can still play a good down and still get beat. He got out of the pocket a couple of times on us and just made great plays and he was out there making good plays under pressure.
“And that’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”