The Saints turned a poorly-played first half, featuring one first down and one rushing yard, into a 24-6 drubbing of the Bills in Buffalo. The defense held the Saints in the game, holding the Bills to two field goals in two red zone stands and sacking Bills QB Rob Johnson four times and pounding him mercilessly. Safety Sammy Knight came up with an team record-tying three interceptions, the only turnovers of the game, and a hard-hitting Saints defense enabled the Saints offense time enough to adjust to the Bills' defense.
In the first half, the Saints had only one first down (which came on a bomb to Albert Connell on the last play of the half.) Ricky Williams had only five rushing yards. But the defense had stopped the Bills offense and held them to two field goals, and even held star WR Eric Moulds to zero receptions in the first half. Still, after such a poor offensive performance the Saints went into the locker room in need of a fire to be lighted.
"They had a couple long drives, but we played great red zone defense in forcing them to kick field goals," said Saints head coach Jim Haslett. "When you make teams kick field goals in this league, you've got the upper hand. We were down 6-0, but it could've been 14-0. We played as a team today. The offense struggled in the first half, but the defense did play real well but played well in the red zone."
It would begin on the first drive of the second half, an eight-play, 82-yard romp down the field. Ricky Williams showed the first signs of his brutal running style that was to come with a 12-yard run. Terrelle Smith had a ten-yard catch and run on a screen, but the first score for the Saints came when Brooks found Albert Connell one-on-one with cornerback Ken Irvin down the left sideline. On rainbow pass, tipped ball, defensive pass interference and miraculous catch later, Connell had caught a 46-yard bomb and his first touchdown as a Saint. The penalty was declined and the Saints took their first lead of the game.
Two plays later, Sammy Knight collected his second interception and returned it to the Bills 27. That led to a John Carney field goal from 31 yards out. On the Bills' next possession, Knight collected his team record-tying third interception off a tipped pass at the Bills 32. TE Cam Cleeland, who played sparingly in 1999 and not at all in 2000, caught two passes on the drive including a 12-yard touchdown on a fade route in the back of the end zone. The Saints had jumped ahead 17-6 in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Saints would take five minutes off the clock with a 10-play, 80-yard drive. It was a drive the Ricky Williams was able to dominate with runs of 16, 15, and 16 yards. Williams finished the scoring on a screen pass that he took 19 yards down the right sideline for an easy touchdown. Williams finished with 93 yards rushing on 18 carries for a robust 5.1 yard/carry average.
Aaron Brooks started off very slowly, fumbling snaps and fumbling twice. Brooks finished 18 for 29 for 209 yards and three touchdowns. Albert Connell led receivers with 89 yards on three catches.
The Saints didn't convert a single third down in the first half but finished the game converting 6 of 13.
The Saints defense featured big performances from Sammy Knight (three interceptions, two solo tackles, one assist), Joe Johnson (three sacks, six solo tackles, two assists), and Charlie Clemons, who had one sack and made several good plays. Clemons missed all of 2000 with an Achilles injury but is coming on strong as a starter at middle linebacker. Keith Mitchell, who is a big part of the Saints defense this year, led the team with eight solo tackles and an assist.
Bills rookie RB Travis Henry started and ran for 58 yards on 22 carries, mostly in the first half. Bills QB Rob Johnson drew the boos from the home crowd early and often, finishing 16 for 27 for 160 yards and three interceptions. The Bills got their only points in the first half off of field goals of 37 and 22 yards from newly-signed kicker Jake Arians. The Bills placed veteran kicker Steve Christie on injured reserve with a groin injury and signed second-year Arians, who had been with Atlanta this offseason. The Bills were also 0-3 on fourth down and 5-15 on third down.
Returning to action was CB Kevin Mathis, who played well in pass coverage as well as run support. Mathis missed most of the preseason with a knee sprain. Another cornerback, Fred Thomas, was impressive and spent a lot of time blanketing Bills WR Eric Moulds and limiting the tall playmaker to one catch. Thomas led all DB's with five solo tackles.
The Saints have two injuries that looked serious initially but may pan out to be less serious than first thought. Speedster WR Michael Lewis suffered a sprained left ankle while covering a punt. Tests discovered no serious damage to the ankle. LB Darrin Smith limped off the field with what initially appears to be a foot strain. X-rays, like Lewis', were negative. RB Deuce McAllister replaced Lewis on kickoffs and punts and rookie LB Sedrick Hodge replaced Smith at outside linebacker.
DT La'Roi Glover apparently had leg cramps and missed some action. DE Joe Johnson missed some time with a neck strain. Both returned to play the entire game.