Saints not all bad in 35-17 victory

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was hard on his team after an imperfect 35-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. And players eagerly agreed with the message that the sloppy mistakes they made could get them beat down the road.

Naturally, however, there were plenty of good things to like about New Orleans’ performance. And Payton reiterated one of his favorite expressions Monday that the tape is never as good or bad as you think the next day.

Payton twice emphasized how good the Saints’ defensive line played, both containing the run and disrupting quarterback Thad Lewis. He singled out end Akiem Hicks, whose performance might have gone more under the radar than those of pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, who both forced fumbles on sacks. The Saints had four sacks total, and Payton said they wound up with more total pressures and hurries than the Bills’ vaunted defensive line.

Payton also singled out linebacker David Hawthorne, who made a huge play on the first snap of the game, hitting Lewis hard on a read-option run and forcing a fumble. He mentioned cornerback Keenan Lewis, who helped clinch the game with a fourth-quarter interception. He talked about the big plays made by the offense, describing quarterback Drew Brees as "very sharp" during his five-touchdown performance and complimenting tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Kenny Stills.

“I think that Kenny Stills continues to really play well at a high level and at a consistent level where he’s made some big plays for us,” Payton said of the rookie, who has six catches for 193 yards and three touchdowns over the past two games.

The players who were present in the Saints’ locker room Monday morning said much of the same things -- acknowledging both the things they did well and the things that need to be cleaned up.

“You really want to bug coach? Don’t put enough guys on the field," Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said of an issue that crept up on both offense and defense Sunday. "Have a procedural, a pre-snap kind of deal. Those types of things drive him nuts, and it looks sloppy. It doesn’t look good. At the end of the day, when we get into the part of the season that we hope to be in, towards the end of the year where you’re playing for seeding and you’re in playoff games -- places we want to go -- those teams will beat you because of those things. And those are things that you can fix.

"But a lot of times you can’t fix them unless they’re brought up and emphasized. And that’s a time that he has everyone’s ears and everyone is listening, and I think those messages can kind of stick in those moments."