BUFFALO -- In Drew Brees' long, record-setting career, there have probably been few moments when he wondered if his New Orleans teammates would be mad if he threw a touchdown pass.
Such was the nature of the Saints' dominance Sunday over the Bills, though, that when he heard the play call come in at the end of a 94-yard drive, a call asking for a pass from the 7-yard line, Brees figured running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara might be miffed. They, after all, had churned through the Bills' defense all day, breaking off run after run, seizing control of the clock, contributing to a Saints personality they haven't had since their 2009 Super Bowl season.
It was fitting, then, that when Brees could not find an open receiver, and he saw left tackle Terron Armstead mow down another Bills defender in what was a long day for them, he scrambled for a rushing touchdown of his own, capping a 10-play drive in which the ball was never in the air. It was one of a Saints record six rushing touchdowns on the way to a 47-10 victory. So what did the running backs think about that play call?
"Drew still rushed for a touchdown, so we're good," Ingram said.
It was the Saints' seventh victory in a row and what has made this streak remarkable -- what makes the Saints such a significant threat in the NFC -- is what it has not included: an overwhelming dependence on Brees' routine brilliance. He completed just 18 passes Sunday, and he is attempting an average of just 33 passes per game this season. If it holds up, that would be the fewest since 2009 -- again, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Combined with a defense that has executed a remarkable turnaround after an abysmal first two games, the Saints are one of the biggest surprises of the season and now look to be one of the teams to beat in the NFC.
"Did I think we'd rattle off seven in a row? I'm not sure," Brees said. "I knew we were much closer than people gave us credit for. I knew the tide would turn at some point. I hoped it would be sooner than later. You just need a little validation for the process and for all the hard work and dedication we had all put in and the expectation level we had for the season. We played two really good teams to start the season in Minnesota and New England. I think we felt if we kept plugging away, we'd break the seal at some point and then, look out."
Look out, indeed.
The talk in the Saints' locker room was about imposing their will on the Bills, but the lopsidedness of the game spoke to Buffalo's deficiencies as much as to New Orleans' balance. The trade of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to the Jaguars has clearly left a hole in the Bills' run defense, and the Saints were committed to the run, rolling up 298 yards on the ground. They had 32 first downs and never punted, allowing them to hold the ball for a staggering 41:23.
The goal of the Saints' defense was to keep quarterback Tyrod Taylor from escaping the pocket, where the Saints felt he was most dangerous. The result: Taylor completed just nine passes, and the Bills did not get their fifth first down of the game until there was just 4:47 remaining. In all, the Bills had just 198 yards of offense -- 100 yards fewer than the Saints ran for.
That this goes against type for the Saints is obvious to anyone who has watched them struggle with abysmal defenses in the last few years. They chafe at the perception that they are the type of team that thrives in a climate-controlled dome but can not grind out a win on the road and in the cold. But the Saints haven't been to the playoffs in four years -- an eternity considering Brees' presence -- and it has been because the defense has toiled near the bottom of the league in points allowed. No longer. They entered Sunday's game in the top 10 of scoring D.
Defensive end Cam Jordan pretended to take offense when he was asked how it felt to finally be a part of a consistently dominating defense. "What do you mean?," he asked a reporter.
Reporter: "I'm saying you guys are consistently dominant."
Jordan: "As opposed to?"
Reporter: "Previous years, when you weren't a consistently dominant defense."
Jordan: "I feel like '11 and '13 were pretty good years. Fine, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool."
With seven games remaining in the regular season, coach Sean Payton rejected the notion that the Saints have sent a message about their renaissance -- although he noted that the most important thing is that he is constantly trying to send a message to his own team. Payton preaches a mantra about confidence coming only from demonstrated performance, and there is little doubt the Saints are demonstrating something -- to themselves and to the rest of the league -- they have been unable to conjure in recent seasons, something that certainly did not appear to be on the horizon after their opening two losses. The wins against Carolina and in London against the Dolphins -- a shutout -- have spurred the Saints on.
They have what will be a telling finishing stretch ahead, with games against Washington, the Rams, the Panthers and two against the Falcons among those still to come. Even after overwhelming the Bills, though, New Orleans remains a work in progress -- a team that is improving each week, playing more complementary football the further into the schedule it goes.
"You do this long enough, you'll find yourself on both ends of this type of game," Payton said.