ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Sheldon Rankins has felt like the big plays were coming.
Rankins, who has become the mastermind of the defensive line in his second season in New Orleans, has been playing well and creating pressure, but he was unable to finish any big plays. He hit the halfway mark of the season without a sack.
But he kept believing the big plays would come in bunches, and he was right. Rankins picked off a pass and recorded his first sack of the season in a dominant 47-10 win for New Orleans.
"I had a smile that you probably still can't wipe off my face," Rankins said. "Playing the type of game we played, being able to make the plays I made for the defense. ... I knew they were going to come to me eventually."
New Orleans (7-2) has dropped defensive linemen back in coverage regularly this season, and the 305-pound Rankins estimates he takes three to four snaps per game in coverage.
This time, he thought he knew where the ball was going when Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor dropped back and looked for Charles Clay over the middle.
"I'd seen that passing concept with the tight end dropping out like that; they'd probably done it a couple of plays before," Rankins said. "When we got our defensive call, I kind of just figured where I'd be dropping back to, broke on the ball, he bobbled it, made a play on it and it was a great day to be me."
Rankins, who played running back in high school and scored a touchdown at Louisville on a fumble recovery, took off with a full head of steam and headed for the end zone.
The rest of the Saints defense tried to get him into the end zone.
"I pretty much laid out for a block," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "I thought I gave the offensive lineman all I had, and he was still standing. I was like 'Go, Ranks, go! And then Tyrod clipped him, and I was like 'of course.' ... Our fault for not sealing the quarterback."
Taylor tackled Rankins 3 yards from the end zone.
The big defensive tackle never saw him coming. If he had, Rankins would have found a way to get across the goal line.
"Tyrod came in at the last second and clipped my legs," Rankins said. "If I'd seen him coming, I probably would have tried to jump, do anything. It was only 2 or 3 yards."
But the interception had already blown the game open. Mark Ingram scored on the next play to give the Saints a 30-3 lead, and a defense that dominated the Bills all day long settled into crushing Taylor's hopes.
Other than a 36-yard run by LeSean McCoy to set up a field goal on Buffalo's first series and the 75-yard touchdown drive led by backup Bills quarterback Nate Peterman after the Saints had already pulled their starters, New Orleans crushed the Bills attack.
Buffalo rushed for just 69 yards, passed for 129 and found itself hanging on the wall next to the defense's other recent victims, a string of teams who have found themselves overwhelmed by a defense that keeps getting better and better.
"I like the way our defense is playing," Jordan said. "I like the way we practice, I like the way we take the field. Whatever gets us to this mental edge, that's what we need."
Rankins provided the highlights on Sunday.
But the edge has been there for almost two months now, and it shows no signs of going anywhere.