After a series of injuries, the New Orleans Saints were down to five healthy defensive backs for the final minutes of Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Luckily for the Saints, they were short-handed for only one play after Drew Brees and the offense milked the final 3 minutes, 55 seconds off the clock in their 35-17 win.
Already playing without strong safety Roman Harper, who missed his fifth consecutive game with a knee problem, the Saints also lost starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins to a leg injury in the second quarter.
Then, cornerback Keenan Lewis injured his right knee after intercepting Bills quarterback Thad Lewis in the final quarter. Keenan Lewis returned, only to have a nasty collision with safety Kenny Vaccaro as they tried to break up a pass near the sideline with 4 minutes left.
Jenkins said he “tweaked” his leg.
“It was more on the precautionary side … to make sure I didn’t do anything bad,” he said, declining to talk about the exact nature of the injury.
Vaccaro and Lewis appeared to be OK in the locker room after the game.
Saints backup cornerback Corey White was flagged for two roughing-the-passer penalties in the third quarter, which twice kept the Bills’ final touchdown drive going.
Coming on a corner blitz on third-and-9 at the Bills’ 46, White appeared to hit Lewis legally just as he delivered the ball. But White was flagged by referee Terry McAulay, allowing the drive to continue.
Four plays later, White put up his hands and ran right into Lewis on third-and-5, giving the Bills first-and-goal at the Saints’ 4.
“I didn’t talk to the refs, but (coach Sean Payton) said it was a helmet-to-helmet thing,” said White, who added that he’ll appeal if fined by the NFL. “Hopefully, they’ll give me a little leeway. If not, there goes Christmas.”
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who helped LSU claim the 2003 BCS title over Oklahoma in the Superdome, returned to the stadium Sunday and had a nice day in a losing effort.
Williams was credited with nine total tackles, which was second on the team, and had 11/2 of their four sacks. While not happy with the outcome, Williams said it was special to return to the building and play near his home in Baton Rouge.
“It’s good to come down here with so many family and friends in the stands,” he said. “But it was nothing more than another game for me and for our team. But we came up short today.”
In addition to Harper, the Saints’ inactives were RB Mark Ingram (toe), DE Tyrunn Walker (knee), CB Rod Sweeting (hip), RB Travaris Cadet, T Terron Armstead and QB Ryan Griffin.
Inactives of note for the Bills were QB E.J. Manuel (knee), RB C.J. Spiller (ankle), LB Manny Lawson (hamstring), QB Matt Flynn and CB Justin Rogers. Flynn is a former LSU standout, and Rogers is a Baton Rouge native.
Red zone problems
The Saints failed to score on two of their first three visits to the red zone Sunday after getting points on 20 of their 22 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line in the first six games.
Garrett Hartley missed field-goal attempts of 47 and 38 yards against the Bills after the Saints scored 10 touchdowns and had 10 field goals on their first 22 trips to the red zone this season.
The Saints did score touchdowns on their other three trips to the red zone.
Surviving the bye
By topping the Bills, the Saints won for the fifth consecutive year in their first game back after the bye. They lost their first three games after a regular-season bye after Payton took over in 2006 but are now 5-3 after winning their past five.
Did you notice?
The Saints were caught with only 10 defenders on the field when Bills running back Fred Jackson had a 3-yard run to the Saints’ 10 with 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bills lined up quickly to run another play, but Payton raced down to the 10-yard line to take a timeout.
Payton has a 17-10 record against AFC teams, winning 15 of his past 18 meetings with teams from the other conference. … The Saints did not turn the ball over and are now 27-1 (counting the playoffs) when they don’t have a giveaway since Payton took over in 2006. … Brees was called for two false starts in a row in the first half, turning a third-and-1 at the Bills’ 11 into third-and-11. … Saints reserve tight end Josh Hill, an undrafted free agent, had his first NFL catch in the third quarter. He had an 8-yard reception and later added a 9-yarder.
Ted Lewis and Brian Allee-Walsh contributed to this report.