Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NEW ORLEANS — The previous time the Buffalo Bills hit the road to play the Saints, they had to go to San Antonio.
The Superdome, and much of New Orleans, were in shambles following Hurricane Katrina, and the Bills and their fans could not have been blamed at the time for wondering if their team would ever play in the Big Easy again.
On Sunday, the Bills (3-4) head to the renovated Superdome for the first time since 1998, when then-Buffalo coach Wade Phillips led a playoff team to a 45-33 victory over the Mike Ditka-coached Saints.
How times have changed.
Seven seasons have passed since current Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone decided to join the staff of a rookie head coach named Sean Payton as the Saints returned to storm-battered New Orleans.
Three-plus seasons have passed since the Saints won their first Super Bowl — a title which came one season after Marrone left to become a college head coach at Syracuse.
In the meantime, the Saints (5-1) have shed their long-held reputation as a franchise for which success seldom came and proved tough to sustain.
“They’re a great team. They have been for a while,” Bills running back Fred Jackson said. “It’s an extremely tough challenge to go down there and beat them, but it’s one we are looking forward to.”
The NFC South-leading Saints have pole position to pursue a fourth playoff appearance in five seasons.
They’re also rather difficult to defeat in the Big Easy, where they are 16-4 (including playoffs) since 2011, and 12-0 under Payton, who was suspended in the NFL’s bounty probe for all four losses last season.
On top of that, the Saints are fresh off a bye and eager to rebound from their only loss this season at New England two weeks ago.