The bottom line read fine, pretty much an approximation of what was forecast to be Sunday's outcome between the New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, one team a division leader and the other, at the bottom of its division standings.
But the fine print, which is the area where Saints Coach Sean Payton diverted his attention-to-detail gaze, told a slightly different story.
As impressive as the score was – New Orleans 35, Buffalo 17, as the Saints raised their record to 6-1 and Buffalo tumbled to 3-5 – it wasn't as clean a decision as Payton would've preferred in the Saints' first game after their bye week.
"I was pleased that we got the win," Payton said. "It certainly wasn't our best effort. I thought we made mistakes in a lot of ways. Those are things that, starting with me, we have to do a better job with, especially the re-occurring mistakes.
"We just looked sloppy, I thought, in all three areas."
He was seconded by his hard-to-please quarterback, Drew Brees, who completed 26 of 34 passes for 332 yards and five touchdowns, without an interception. Ten receivers caught passes, with rookie Kenny Stills (three catches, 129 yards, two touchdowns) leading the way.
It was Brees' 14th career game with a passer rating above 140.0 (146.1), his NFL-record eighth five-touchdown performance and his 22nd game with at least four touchdowns, which ranks third all-time. But none of that was being touted from the postgame podium.
"The standard is high around here," Brees said. "We set the bar very high.
"You only get away with certain things so many times before it bites you.
"Not everything is always going to be perfect but some of the same things continue to show up. We need to be better in some situations, yet in many cases we were driving down the field, scoring points. That's our job. The longer we stay on the field, the more rested our defense can be for the next series."
Brees specifically referenced a second consecutive slow start on offense (the Saints trailed New England 17-7 at halftime in their previous game). But also, Payton mentioned the eight penalties committed for 59 yards and a timeout that had to be burned when only 10 players were on the field.
The Saints scored seven points after the first five possessions, including two missed field goals, despite taking over twice after the defense forced and recovered fumbles at Buffalo's 22- and 21-yard lines.
"It's good when you can not play your best and still win," Brees said. "But we know that as the season moves along, it gets tougher."
It was tough early against Buffalo, with the Bills refusing to fold despite the Saints producing turnovers on two of the Bills' first three possessions.
New Orleans failed to cash in on the first turnover, with Garrett Hartley's 47-yard field-goal attempt sailing wide left. But the Saints were money after the second turnover, a sack, forced fumble and recovery by defensive end Cam Jordan at the Bills' 21-yard line.
On third-and-4 from the Bills' 15, Brees connected with receiver Lance Moore on a 15-yard catch and run to give New Orleans a 7-0 lead.
After the Bills punted and Hartley missed a 38-yard attempt, Buffalo constructed an eight-play, 72-yard drive that ended on Thad Lewis' 13-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson, tying the score with 10:44 left in the first half.
!(http://www.neworleanssaints.com/media-center/photo-gallery/New-Orleans-Saints-vs-Buffalo-Bills/e237ebbd-ca62-4963-8ba5-ab6788ec238e "saints-bills photos")And after the Bills forced the Saints to punt – including the first missed field-goal attempt, the Saints had three first-half possessions that lasted just three offensive plays – Buffalo took a 10-7 lead courtesy of Dan Carpenter's 37-yard field goal with 4:35 left.
But that score seemed to jolt the Saints to action. They responded with a patented quick-strike drive (86 yards in two plays, the dagger being Brees' 69-yard rainbow to Stills, who outran Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes the final 40 yards), to take a 14-10 lead with 3:34 left in the half.
"On that play, I just had my eyes in the backfield," Hughes said. "And (Stills) just took off and I tried my best to catch him. It was an unfortunate mistake on my part – it was just me.
"When you have an elite quarterback like that, he's going to find that. It was just a mistake you can't make."
Brees and his offense were at it again, soon. The Saints' defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense complemented the stop with a back-breaking nine-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 15-yard pass from Brees to Jimmy Graham.
That 21-10 lead would've been enough to stand, but the Saints tacked on two more scores in the third and fourth quarters.
Brees and Graham combined on a 13-yard scoring toss in the third, and Brees found Stills in the end zone from 42 yards out in the fourth, with the rookie receiver out-dueling a defensive back for the prize.
Buffalo added a fourth-quarter touchdown on Fred Jackson's 1-yard run, but the Bills never seriously threatened in the second half.
The Saints had possession almost six minutes longer than the Bills in the final two quarters (17:48-12:12) and finished with a five-minute advantage, 32:30-27:30. And they harassed the inexperienced Lewis into four sacks, several hurries and an interception (Keenan Lewis' team-leading third).
But the fine print wasn't overlooked. The hunt for perfection continues.
"We want to get as close to it as we can," Brees said.