Saints move the ball like last year, but Bills take 13-10 win
Reigning coach of the year Sean Payton expanded his preseason play book enough to remind everyone why the Saints led the NFL in offense a year ago.
The Saints failed to finish their early drives, though, and the Buffalo Bills’ reserves ground out a 13-10 victory Friday night.
Payton had Drew Brees dropping back with play-action fakes or rolling out from a variety of formations, and the Pro Bowl quarterback completed 12 passes to seven receivers for 118 yards on only two offensive series.
“We were a little sharper tonight on offense, but you would still like to see us complete those drives with touchdowns,” Brees said. “There was more to build on tonight for us and we’ve also seen some positives from our younger players.”
The first two Saints drives stalled inside the Bills’ 30, and new kicker Olindo Mare made one of two field goals as the other was blocked.
Rian Lindell’s 54-yard field goal, which might have been good from 10 yards farther out, gave Buffalo (1-0) the lead for good with 3:23 to go.
“The main ingredient was there. The effort was there,” Bills coach Dick Jauron said. “They were the No. 1 offense in football a year ago. We kept them out of the end zone. That’s always big.”
The Saints (0-2) were in range to tie game with a late field goal, but Payton had the Saints run a regular play on fourth-and-12 from the Bills 34 and Tyler Palko threw an incomplete pass as he tried to escape the rush.
The Saints’ top draft pick, receiver Robert Meachem, wasn’t one of Brees’ targets, but he had a good night.
Having missed time with minor injuries during rookie camp and minicamp, and having performed inconsistently throughout training camp, Meachem did not play with the first team.
But he made his mark on the game while running routes for Palko, hauling in a difficult, over-the-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone as the Saints tied the game at 10 in the fourth quarter.
“It was a good play by him keeping his feet in bounds — a good throw, a good catch,” Payton said. “It’s good to see a young guy like that make a play.”
Earlier in the series, Meachem’s 18-yard catch on third down put the Saints in position to go for it on fourth-and-short, and Palko gained 19 yards on a bootleg to keep the drive going.
Bills top draft pick Marshawn Lynch had a quiet pro debut, carrying the ball only twice for three yards. Second-year reserve running back Fred Jackson ran for 49 yards and scored the Bills’ only touchdown on a tackle-breaking 17-yard run that he capped by diving over the goal line.
“You have to know your opportunities are going to be limited,” Jackson said, noting that he kept the ball for his 10-month old son. “It was exciting. Our offensive line did a great job, the receivers did a great job blocking and I just hit the holes.”
Bills second-round pick Paul Posluszny, fighting for a starting job at middle linebacker, sacked Palko on a flawlessly executed delayed blitz.
With the starters playing throughout the first quarter, the Saints were the big winners in terms of yardage and time of possession.
The Saints had looked flat and their game plan rather plain in an uninspired 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend in the Hall of Fame game.
This time, Payton showed a little more of the creativity and his players more hustle.
Reggie Bush lined up all over the field. He ran up the middle for 13 yards, caught a screen for 8 and a pass to the right flat for 17 yards after lining up as a wideout.
When the Saints’ first drive stalled, Mare’s 37-yard attempt was blocked by 6-foot-8, 366-pound Langston Walker, Buffalo’s starting right tackle.
Mare later connected from 42 yards to make it 3-0 at the start of the second quarter.
Palko, an undrafted rookie from Pittsburgh, was 15-for-27 for 172 yards and a touchdown. He also scrambled for 47 yards.
Bills starter J.P. Losman, who played in the Louisiana Superdome for Tulane, was 4-of-6 for 20 yards in two drives that stalled quickly.
“It’s just a starting point for us. We’ll be much more fluid in our second preseason game,” Losman said. “But we didn’t do anything negative tonight and that’s what we’re looking for, especially this early in the preseason.”
Backup Craig Nall, who played his college ball in Louisiana for Northwestern State, had more success with the second team. He completed five passes for 54 yards during 14-play, 62-yard drive that set up Lindell’s 36-yard field goal, which tied the game at 3 inside the final minute of the first half.
Bills rookie quarterback Trent Edwards hit eight of his first nine throws for 35 yards in the second half and directed the Bills’ only touchdown drive.
There were no major injuries, but Payton said Henderson had a hamstring pull while a Bills spokesman said safety Trevor Hooper had a concussion.
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