Cardale Jones brought some late drama to the Buffalo Bills’ first preseason game.
The rookie quarterback from Ohio State led an eight-play, 83-yard touchdown drive to give the Bills a chance for a victory, but a two-point conversion attempt with no time remaining failed, allowing the Indianapolis Colts to leave Ralph Wilson Stadium with a 19-18 victory Saturday night.
Jones found wide receiver Jarrett Boykin for a 4-yard touchdown pass as time expired, setting up the chance to win the game.
“I don’t like to grade myself until I watch the film,” Jones said afterward. “A couple plays I’m disappointed in myself for not getting it done. You guys can look at it however you want, but we still lost the game. It’s kind of hard to enjoy my first NFL game and have fun when we didn’t get it done. That kind of falls on my shoulders, being the quarterback on the last drive.”
It’s safe to say Jones isn’t used to losing; In the 23 career games in which he appeared for Ohio State over three seasons, the Buckeyes won every one. Jones’ last loss came in the state championship game as a high school senior. Before that, the Glenville Tarblooders had won 13 straight games.
Jones’ first snap was a forgettable one; he fumbled, but was able to recover. His very next play, however, was a 13-yard completion to tight end Blake Annen. Jones finished the night 11 of 21 for 162 yards and a quarterback rating of 93.8. He also rushed four times for 34 yards.
“The experience is unbelievable. We’ve been killing each other the last two weeks at camp and to finally see how we react to another team has been amazing,” Jones said.
Bills coach Rex Ryan said he wasn’t surprised by what Jones was able to do.
“We’ve seen it every day on the practice field,” the coach said. “So I think there wasn’t anybody in that locker room that thought he wasn’t going to do it. I can promise you that. Almost immediately, we saw a guy that has poise.
“The one thing you don’t see is the work ethic he has, and he’s a sharp young man. Is he improving faster than we thought? Maybe so.”
Backup quarterback EJ Manuel finished 10 of 18 for 91 yards and a touchdown..
It was a fair preseason performance for the Bills’ backup quarterback which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Manuel’s career numbers in the preseason coming into Saturday’s game have been surprisingly good: 96 of 144, 1,073 yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Of course, that’s not what anyone had in mind when the Bills used the 16th overall pick on him in 2013, but the reality is barring injury, exhibition season will be Manuel’s best chance at significant playing time. That fact was hammered home when the team agreed to a contract extension with starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor on Friday.
Manuel is playing the final year of his rookie contract. He’s scheduled to make a little more than $1.6 million in base salary, and count $2.8 million against the team’s salary cap.
As expected, the Bills sat several of their starters against the Colts. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee), left tackle Cordy Glenn (ankle) and left guard Richie Incognito (ribs) headlined that list. Watkins and Williams are being eased back into action and started practicing within the past week. Glenn and Incognito, meanwhile, were injured during practice.
Also out for the Bills among players on the active roster were: Wide receivers Greg Salas (hamstring) and Dez Lewis, safety Aaron Williams, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Reggie Ragland (knee) and tight end Jim Dray (ankle). Lewis and Williams were injured in a scary collision at practice Thursday night, with coach Rex Ryan saying afterward that Williams was evaluated for a possible concussion. Lewis� injury has not been disclosed.
Ragland will miss the season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during practice last week.
The Colts were also without several starters, including quarterback Andrew Luck. Other notables sitting for Indianapolis were defensive end Kendall Langford, edge rusher Robert Mathis and running back Frank Gore.
Luck’s absence was a bit of a surprise. He was scheduled to play last week in the Hall of Fame game, but it was cancelled because of field conditions.
Amherst native Glenn Gronkowski and former All-Western New Yorker Robert Kugler (Orchard Park) made their home debuts as a member of the Bills. Undrafted free agents out of Kansas State and Purdue, respectively, Gronkowski and Kugler are two of eight such players on the team vying for a roster spot.
“It was just awesome to be out there,” Gronkowski said. “I was ready to go.”
Gronkowski had a large cheering section making plenty of noise during pregame warmups.
“I heard them screaming from the first row,” he said.
In 11 of the last 14 seasons, at least one undrafted free agent has made the Bills’ opening-day roster. Included on that list is current long snapper Garrison Sanborn and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.
The Bills will take Sunday off. The team returns to St. John Fisher College in Pittsford for its last full week of training camp for practice at 10 a.m. Monday.
The home portion of the preseason concludes next Saturday with the annual Kids Day game against the New York Giants. Kickoff is at 4 p.m.
After the third preseason game Aug. 26 at Washington, the team will cut its roster to 75 players by Aug. 30. The final preseason game is Sept. 1 at Detroit, two days before the final 53-man roster is set Sept. 3.