NEW ORLEANS — Several years ago, Sean Payton decided to change his bye week process, giving the team an entire week off.
Turns out, the bye week hangover lasted about a quarter and a half longer for the Saints offense.
But when it wore off, the Saints were able to go on a run, scoring 21 straight points in the middle of the game before holding off the Bills 35-17.
While not the cleanest game by the Saints (6-1), they’ll take it after being called for eight penalties, running for less than 100 yards and allowing four sacks.
The game was put away midway through the fourth quarter.
After Buffalo forced a punt by New Orleans, the Bills (3-5) were driving to make it a one score game. Cornerback Keenan Lewis intercepted an errant Thad Lewis throw, New Orleans’ third forced turnover of the day.
The offense turned the interception into Drew Brees’ fifth touchdown pass of the day. On third-and-20, he scrambled to his left out of pressure before launching a 42-yard scoring strike to rookie receiver Kenny Stills.
The score put New Orleans up 18 and ended the Bills hope of pulling an upset.
In spite of being sacked those four times, Brees found enough time to record go 26 of 34 for 332 yards, five touchdowns and a 146.1 quarterback rating.
Stills finished with two scores and 129 yards and tight end Jimmy Graham, despite playing with an injured foot, had two touchdowns on three catches.
The Saints harried Lewis, who was starting for only the fourth time in his career. He was sacked four times, hit countless others and finished with a rating half of what Brees finished with at 72.0.
Meanwhile, Buffalo’s vaunted rushing attack was held in check thanks to the Saints’ big lead for much of the game. The Bills gained less than 100 yards for just the second time this season, ending with just 88.
On two of the first three Bills’ possessions, New Orleans’ defense forced a fumble by Buffalo’s Lewis. But after Garrett Hartley pushed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide on the first one, the Saints went the conventional route with a touchdown on the second one.
Brees hit Lance Moore for a 15-yard touchdown, only the fourth scoring catch by a receiver this season for New Orleans. The play gave the Saints a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Buffalo eventually responded thanks to three completions from Lewis to Stevie Johnson, including a 13-yard grab in the end zone that tied the game.
After the third three-and-out of the first half by the Saints, New Orleans went behind for the first time on Dan Carpenter’s 37-yard field goal, which made it a 10-7 game with 4:35 to play in the second quarter.
It took New Orleans just 52 seconds to grab the lead right back. Brees found Stills open behind linebacker Jerry Hughes and lofted a pass the receiver caught before sprinting for a 69-yard touchdown and a 14-10 lead.
Graham pushed the lead to 21-10 with a 15-yard touchdown catch in which he powered through Buffalo’s Da’Norris Searcy to get into the end zone and pushed the lead to three scores when he caught a ball in the third quarter and turned up-field, lunging into the end zone.
Buffalo answered with a 1-yard plunge by Fred Jackson that capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive that cut the Saints’ lead to 28-17 early in the final quarter.