Kevin Kolb did not make a bold statement in the battle for starting quarterback, and the Buffalo Bills’ defense looked good in Friday night’s exhibition against the Minnesota Vikings.
Kolb managed to engineer just four first downs in five series against the Vikings’ defensive starters. On the last two drives of the first half, against Minnesota’s second-stringers, Kolb drove the Bills 59 and 52 yards to two field goals.
The Bills took a 13-3 lead into intermission.
EJ Manuel took over for Kolb to start the second half and promptly marched the Bills 80 yards in 14 plays to a touchdown. It put Buffalo ahead, 20-3.
The Bills went on to win, 20-16, before a Kids Day crowd of 60,164 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Buffalo’s defense had three first-half sacks and produced the first touchdown of the game, thanks to a Vikings miscue. Minnesota’s backup center, Joe Berger, snapped the ball over the head of backup quarterback Matt Cassel on a third-and-7 play from Minnesota’s 23-yard line.
Cassel chased the ball back to the goal line, the ball tumbled into the end zone, and Jamie Blatnick fell on it for a score with 8:45 left in the half. Blatnick entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State last year. He’s pushing hard to make the Bills’ roster as a backup edge rusher.
The Bills improved to 2-0. The Vikings dropped to 0-2.
“I thought early on our defense played very well, made some things happen,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “I like that type of effort from them. They made some things happen. They batted down a lot of balls. … They were excellent on third down.”
The Bills outgained the Vikings, 380-256. However, Marrone was not happy that his team was called for 14 penalties for 106 yards.
“Offensively, I think we had some tough field position,” he said. “We shot ourselves in the foot. Penalties again. That’s going to be something we need to address, to take control of that. … We won the game. We still have a long way to go. We have a lot of things to work on, all of us – myself, the coaches and the players.”
Kolb, the seventh-year veteran signed in the offseason from Arizona, completed 13 of 21 passes in the first half for 111 yards. The Bills relied heavily in the first half on the “regular” formation with a running back, a fullback, two receivers and a tight end.
Bills edge rusher Jerry Hughes had two sacks, and Marcell Dareus had one.
Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player last season, did not play. Vikings starting quarterback Christian Ponder was 5 of 12 for 53 yards. He directed five drives. Four of them were three-and-out series. The fifth went 62 yards to the field goal.
Manuel played only the third quarter. He completed 10 of 12 passes for 92 yards.
“The offensive line did a fantastic job,” Manuel said. “I didn’t have any pressure.”
Manuel looked confident to start the second half. He completed 6 of 6 passes for 44 yards on his first drive, which was capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith. Manuel looked left and saw receivers covered. He shifted back to the right side of the field and lofted the pass to a wide-open Smith.
“Coach Hackett continues to preach: slow down, relax and just have fun,” Manuel said of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Manuel’s TD drive got going when Tashard Choice ran up the middle for 15 yards and was brought down by a horse-collar tackle. That brought a 15-yard penalty and gave the Bills the ball at midfield.
Manuel hit Zach Brown for a short pass for 7 yards. After a short run, Manuel hit Chris Hogan on two sharp slant patterns that totaled 14 yards. That brought the ball down to the Vikings’ 19. Brown ran 11 yards to the 8 to set up the touchdown pass.
Kolb’s second pass attempt was intercepted. It was a third-and-3 play from the Buffalo 23. Kolb threw to the right for Marquise Goodwin, running a hitch pattern. Goodwin was well covered by Vikings rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes and the pass was too far inside. Rhodes deflected the ball in the air, and safety Jamarca Smith caught the ball off the rebound to give Minnesota possession at the Buffalo 31.
The turnover did not lead to points.
The ensuing shotgun snap caught Ponder by surprise, and he had to chase the ball down in the backfield. Lawson sacked him for a 14-yard loss. Three plays later, Blair Walsh, who made first-team All-Pro as a rookie, missed wide right from 49 yards.
The Bills’ defense got off to a good start. On the first play from scrimmage, Buffalo’s Hughes got inside Vikings tackle Matt Kalil and sacked Ponder for a 7-yard loss.
Vikings running back Toby Gerhart was held to 23 yards on six carries.
Bills running back C.J. Spiller rushed for 27 yards on seven carries. Spiller carried on the first play of the second quarter but then went to the bench for the rest of the night. Fred Jackson spelled Spiller and rushed for 28 yards on seven carries.
Minnesota got a touchdown with 4:36 left when McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw a 36-yard scoring pass to Rodney Smith.
The Bills’ defense was without three starters – Mario Williams, Kiko Alonso and Leodis McKelvin. The Bills’ offense was without both starting receivers, Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham. Rookies Robert Woods and Goodwin started in their place.
The Vikings are hoping to get more out of a passing game that ranked 31st in the NFL last season. They traded leading receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle in exchange for first-, third- and seventh-round draft picks. Taking Harvin’s place is Greg Jennings, an eighth-year veteran signed in free agency from Green Bay. Jennings made the Pro Bowl two of the past three seasons.