The final score showed a relatively close game Sunday, but it was really another example of the New Orleans Saints' talent not matching their determination.
Helped by a pair of Saints turnovers, playoff-bound Buffalo scored on four of its first five possessions, then held off a furious New Orleans rally for a 45-33 win in the regular-season finale for both teams.
"There was some good effort," said Saints coach Mike Ditka, who has posted back-to-back 6-10 records in his first two seasons in New Orleans. "We just have to get a lot better. No question about it. (The Bills) are really a good football team. They're in the playoffs and there's a reason they're in the playoffs, because they're better than us right now. We have to find a way to get that way."
Quarterback Kerry Collins, due to become a free agent, did little to improve his stock in his seventh start for New Orleans. Collins lost a fumble and threw an interception - with Buffalo converting both into touchdowns - before being benched with two minutes, 46 seconds left in the first quarter.
In an erratic four possessions, Collins was 3 for 12 for 23 yards before Ditka replaced him with Billy Joe Tolliver. It was the second time in three games Collins has been pulled from the lineup before halftime because of excessive turnovers.
"No one likes to get pulled," Collins said. "But it's the coach's decision and I respect his decision."
Meanwhile, Buffalo racked up big plays using second-string quarterback Rob Johnson, who started because Bills coach Wade Phillips decided to rest Pro Bowl quarterback Doug Flutie.
Antowain Smith, a former East Mississippi Community College standout, gave the Bills a 7-0 lead with a 1-yard touchdown run on their first play from scrimmage. Smith's run came one play after defensive end Bruce Smith ran 17 yards to the 1 after recovering a Collins fumble.
After a Saints punt, Johnson completed a 66-yard touchdown pass to former Mississippi State star Eric Moulds, who became wide open when Saints cornerback Fred Weary fell down.
The Bills took a 28-0 lead on touchdown runs by Johnson (12 yards) and Sam Gash (1 yard).
Tolliver got the Saints offense going after entering the game with two minutes, 46 seconds left in the first quarter. The veteran completed 23 of 41 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns.
His 5-yard scoring pass to Cam Cleeland cut the Bills' lead to 28-14 at halftime. His 10-yard touchdown pass to Brett Bech in the third quarter pulled New Orleans within 31-21 with 1:00 remaining in the third quarter.
But Johnson's 23-yard touchdown pass to Lonnie Johnson less than two minutes later swung momentum back to Buffalo. A Tolliver interception at the Saints' 39 set up Jonathan Linton's 8-yard touchdown run which pumped the Bills lead to 45-21 with 6:39 to play.
The Saints recovered a couple of on-sides kicks to make things interesting, but the Bills snuffed the rally in the end.
"I wish we could have finished out on a positive note and bounce us into next season," Saints cornerback Alex Molden said. "But we weren't able to do that."