Ready or not, bring on the regular season.
The Buffalo Bills “treated” a gathering of about 40,000 fans to an exercise in futility Thursday night in their exhibition finale.
The Bills rested 21 of their 22 of their starters and got blown out by the Detroit Lions, 35-13.
The Bills finished the preseason 2-2 but were outscored, 65-20, in losing their last two games. They have nine days to get ready for the season opener against the New England Patriots, and they’re staring at the likelihood of becoming the first team since at least 1967 to start an undrafted rookie (Jeff Tuel) in the season opener.
If the Bills wanted to try to create overconfidence in New England, Thursday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium was a noble effort in that direction. Detroit jumped to a 21-0 lead and held a 35-3 halftime advantage.
Tuel kept a baseball cap on his head the entire night. The Bills were not about to expose him to a risk of injury with quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb already on the shelf.
Veteran Matt Leinart, signed on Sunday, completed just 3 of 10 passes for 11 yards and threw two interceptions. He went to the bench for the night after just 18 minutes in favor of Thad Lewis, acquired in a trade with Detroit on Sunday.
Lewis was more effective, rushing for 51 yards, avoiding any turnovers and throwing a 79-yard TD pass to Marcus Easley.
Leinart pulled no punches in his assessment.
“It’s disappointing,” Leinart said. “You have an opportunity and you go out there and you know you don’t play as well as you want to. I will not sit here and make an excuse. I could have played better and tonight I didn’t. You just move on. … You can’t turn the ball over in this league and expect to win.”
“I was thankful to be here,” Leinart said. “We’ll see what happens. Obviously after that performance it can’t be anything good I would think. But we’ll see.”
Said Bills coach Doug Marrone: “The one thing that’s disappointing, and we spoke to the players about it really from Day One … is the turnover ratio. When you give up three turnovers on your side of the 50, you’re giving them 21 points.”
“I told the team, we are not going to be that football team,” Marrone said. “Whatever we have to do as coaches and players to make sure we don’t do that, that’s what we have to do, because history has shown if we learn one thing, that’s the one way we don’t give ourselves a chance.”
Detroit rested eight of its starters, including receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush.
For both teams, the game served as an opportunity to look closely at the last four or five players trying to make the roster. All NFL teams must trim down to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday.
Marrone said it was important for him to evaluate the players on the roster “bubble.”
“I didn’t feel I had enough information to really feel good about it, and the only way to figure it out was to play them,” he said. “We played a bunch of guys tonight.”
Both of Leinart’s interceptions came deep in Buffalo territory and led to easy Detroit touchdowns.
The first was a throw over the middle for tight end Lee Smith, who was running a hook route. Lions backup cornerback Bill Bentley read the play and jumped in front of the pass to give Detroit possession at the Bills’ 8.
On the next play, Detroit second-string quarterback Shaun Hill threw an 8-yard TD pass to Patrick Edwards, who beat cornerback T.J. Heath.
Leinart’s next interception came early in the second quarter, on a 15-yard pass for Easley, who was covered. Rashean Mathis intercepted. On the next play, Joique Bell ran 23 yards for a touchdown.
Also enduring rough outings in the first half for the Bills were: Heath, who was picked on repeatedly; tackle Zebrie Sanders, who struggled in pass protection; cornerback Nickell Robey, who failed to field one catchable punt and muffed another to set up a TD. No. 3 tackle Thomas Welch gave up a sack.
Lewis, on his fourth NFL team in four seasons, finished 7 of 16 passing for 132 yards.
Leinart, the 10th pick of the 2006 draft, made his last regular-season start for Houston in November 2011. Leinart has underperformed in his career but also endured bad luck. In three of his last eight regular-season starts, he has suffered season-ending injuries.
“In fairness to both those guys, they’ve been here for about 72 hours,” Marrone said. “I think they were thrown into a very difficult situation. But we had to put those guys in there and give them reps and try to find out what both those guys are about with the potential of making our team.”
Detroit starting QB Matthew Stafford completed just 1 of 6 passes and had a deflected pass picked off by Bills linebacker Marcus Dowtin.
Hill completed 4 of 5 passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns, the one to Edwards and a 6-yarder to Kris Durham.
The Lions’ other first-half scores came on passes of 8 and 4 yards from third-string QB Kellen Moore to Theo Riddick.