METAIRIE —The Buffalo Bills defense that the New Orleans Saints surrendered four sacks to in a 35-17 win Sunday was in no way lousy. It entered the game tied for fourth in sacks in the NFL with 24 and Monday sat at No. 2.
But the Saints linemen responsible for protecting Drew Brees weren't using that to give themselves a break Monday. Much of the discussion after their contest with the Bills (3-5) has focused on reoccurring mistakes the 6-1 Saints must correct if they don't want to lose to teams that are more serious postseason contenders, and few have been repeated more than letting Brees get dropped behind the line of scrimmage.
"It's something that can beat us, absolutely," said left guard Ben Grubbs, who allowed one of the sacks Sunday. "He's the captain of our ship, and we have to protect him. That's our job. That's what we get paid to do. When it's not done ... it's a problem."
Brees has taken 18 sacks this year. While 16 teams have given up more, New Orleans is on pace to let Brees take about 41 — 15 more than he has ever taken in his eight seasons with the Saints.
As he delivered another marvelous performance Sunday, throwing for 332 yards, five touchdowns and no picks on 26-of-34 passing, the showing highlighted the difficulties his protectors have had keeping him off the ground.
On the Saints' second play from scrimmage at Buffalo's 16, linebacker Jerry Hughes squeezed between Grubbs and left tackle Charles Brown and dropped Brees for a loss of 7. Brown has struggled in his first year starting full time at left tackle: He has been whistled for six penalties and allowed four sacks and 19 quarterback hurries, all team highs, according to the analytics website Pro Football Focus.
The sacks and quarterback hurries are seventh and 11th most among NFL tackles who have played at least 75 percent of their team's snaps.
After the sack on the first drive, the Saints settled for a 47-yard field-goal attempt, which Garrett Hartley missed. The rest of the sacks preceded three of the Saints' four punts against the Bills.
On second-and-4 from New Orleans' 26, center Brian de la Puente snapped the ball and engaged former LSU defensive tackle Kyle Williams late. De la Puente's chest was on Williams' left shoulder pad as he was trying to block, and he shuffled sideways and backward until Williams got to Brees.
Meanwhile, Bills safety Da'Norris Searcy blitzed, was not picked up by anyone and met Williams on top of Brees, earning partial credit for the sack.
The Saints punted and watched Buffalo cut New Orleans' lead to 7-3 on a 37-yard Dan Carpenter field goal.
The third sack on Brees again came from the blind side. Williams pushed Grubbs back and to the Saints lineman's right. Brees tried to step up to his left and past the pressure, but Williams dived at the quarterback's feet to trip him up for the loss.
The fourth sack on Brees came from the right on a pass rush from defensive end Mario Williams. Fullback Jed Collins engaged Williams, but Williams shoved Collins to the side with his right arm. Brees avoided a direct hit by stepping up, but Williams got his 11th sack of the year by diving at the quarterback's legs and dragging him down.