ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five takeaways from the Buffalo Bills’ 31-6 victory against the New Orleans Saints Thursday night at Caesars Superdome:
1. It doesn’t matter that they beat up on a beat-up team.
What matters is that the Bills made a desperately needed rebound.
No, the season wouldn’t have ended had they lost, but the overwhelming dread from that 41-15 loss against the Indianapolis Colts would have intensified. Questions about the Bills’ worthiness as a playoff team – never mind a division champion – would have become widespread.
Shutting out the Saints turned down the volume considerably. So what that the Saints were missing a bunch of injured starters on both sides of the ball? So what that the Bills not only were much healthier but also more talented top to bottom?
Superior teams should dominate inferior opponents, and the Bills did exactly that.
2. Josh Allen and the offense found their groove.
Yeah, I know he threw two interceptions. The first was inexcusable; he forced a throw to Stefon Diggs that never should have left his hand and put the ball right in hands of Bradley Roby. The second – killing a scoring opportunity right before halftime – resulted from terrible pass protection.
But Allen did throw for 260 yards and four touchdowns before Mitch Trubisky with seven minutes left in the game.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll got the running backs involved a little more, which was encouraging. On the Bills’ first possession, they ran for 35 yards on a 10-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. Matt Breida, who replaced inactive Zack Moss, provided a spark for the offense, showing good speed and elusiveness on the way to a 23-yard touchdown reception.
It was quite a contrast to what the Saints did offensively. New Orleans coach Sean Payton had such little confidence in that side of the ball that he made a risky fake-punt call from the Buffalo 49 late in the first half. The pass was incomplete.
3. The defense gets redemption points, though it’s hard not to put an asterisk next to that.
The Saints’ No. 1 quarterback, Jameis Winston, is lost for the season. His replacement, Trevor Siemian, has lost all four of his starts with New Orleans this season.
The Saints’ best offensive player, running back Alvin Kamara, was missing. So too was his backup, Mark Ingram. So too were the starting offensive tackles. And the No. 1 tight end.
Still, after allowing 200-plus yards on the ground last week, Buffalo’s D needed something to make it feel good. It did what it was expected to do against Siemian, holding him to 163 passing yards and one TD throw, while intercepting him once. The Bills’ defensive front generated steady pressure, with Ed Oliver doing much of the damage through the middle. The Bills also limited the Saints to 44 rushing yards.
4. The potential downside to this game was a serious-looking knee injury Tre’Davious White suffered late in the second quarter.
White appeared to twist the knee awkwardly while in coverage. He seemed to instantly know he had sustained some sort of damage, with a look of despair as he left the field. He slammed down his helmet on the sideline before walking to the locker room.
White’s absence didn’t pose much of a problem Thursday night, but it figures to be a concern should he miss any significant time through the final six games of the schedule.
5. The schedule gets much tougher, at least for the next four weeks.
The stretch begins a week from Monday night against the suddenly resurgent New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium. That’s followed by a trip to Tampa, a home clash with the Carolina Panthers, and another encounter with the Patriots at Foxborough, Mass.
The Bills will likely find out much more about themselves – and we’ll learn far more about them – along the way. Are we still looking at a repeat AFC East champion? Are we still looking at a legitimate Super Bowl contender?