BALTIMORE – To put it kindly, the Buffalo Bills’ trip to Baltimore could have gone better.
Before Saturday night’s game against the Ravens even started, the team announced defensive tackle Marcell Dareus had been sent home for a violation of team rules.
That was only the start of the bad news for the Bills, though, in a game they went on to lose, 13-9.
Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor left the game with a concussion suffered on the team's second offensive series. Taylor was sacked by Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon on a third-down play. As Judon took him down, the back of Taylor's head slammed off the M&T Bank Stadium grass.
He was slow to get up, and headed to the medical tent on the Bills' sideline with trainers. A short time later, the team announced he was being evaluated for a possible head injury. Not long after that, he was ruled out for the rest of the game with a concussion. Coach Sean McDermott did not have an update on Taylor’s condition after the game.
“It was an unfortunate situation with Tyrod,” McDermott said. “You never want to see anybody go down, particularly with a head situation.”
While an exact timetable has yet to be set for Taylor’s recovery, any time he misses will hurt a starting offense starving for some sort of rhythm.
The Bills went three and out on their first offensive possession Saturday night, then gained a first down via penalty on the series that ended with the sack of Taylor. On the play, Ravens star Terrell Suggs beat rookie left tackle Dion Dawkins around the edge, almost getting the sack. Suggs held Taylor up long enough to allow Judon to finish the job. Taylor’s night thus ended after just seven play. He went 1 of 3 for 1 yard passing.
Rookie Nathan Peterman replaced Taylor for the Bills’ third offensive series. Peterman was put in a first-and-20 hole before taking an official snap thanks to a holding penalty called on guard Richie Incognito. A pair of completions to Zay Jones and Charles Clay got the Bills into Baltimore territory, but another penalty – this one a false start against guard Vlad Ducasse – stalled the drive.
“I like the way, you know, we were able to handle the sudden change,” McDermott said. “I thought Nate came in and was poised. All reports from the huddle were he was very composed in the huddle and handled himself well. I thought the offense moved at times and at times we didn't move well enough.”
Penalties, once again, share in the blame for that. The Bills were flagged seven times in the first half for 50 yards. Three of those were for the same infraction – illegal formation for not having a player on the line of scrimmage.
“It's disappointing,” McDermott said of the parade of yellow flags against his team. “Like all situations, we have to learn from those. Those are valuable lessons, that you can't do that in a game. We've got a lot of work to do in a lot of areas, and penalties is one of them.
“We'll continue to work until we get it right. There's no magical solution. There's no magic way of fixing it other than to work hard, and that's what we plan to do.”
Not to be outdone, the Ravens took 10 penalties for 110 yards in the first half – a preseason version of “whatever you can do, we can do worse.” Here is the combined drive chart for both teams in the first half, if you are willing to subject yourself to it: punt, punt, punt, Baltimore field goal, punt, punt, punt, Baltimore turnover on downs, punt, punt, punt, punt, Buffalo touchdown, end of first half.
If there was a silver lining to the offensive abyss, it’s that the Bills’ starting defense did look good again. The Ravens were held to 114 yards in the first half, and went just 2 of 8 on third down. Buffalo’s run defense gave up just 2.6 yards per carry in the first half.
“The defense played well overall,” McDermott said. “They weren't in great situations with field position. We knew it was going to be a field position game quite frankly, and it was. They gave us a chance to win the game by forcing field goals for the most part. Taking bad situations and turning them into a positive. I thought they played hard. We'll continue to grow in that area also.”
That defensive effort kept the game close, and the Bills actually took a lead to the locker room at halftime when Peterman led an 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that culminated with Mike Tolbert plunging in from 1-yard out with just 10 seconds left in the second quarter.
“This is what you prepare for,” Peterman said. “When you’re the No. 2 quarterback, you’re always one play away.”
Peterman finished the first half 11 of 20 for 93 yards. The Bills had a miserable time running the ball in the first half, gaining just 16 yards on nine carries. That includes 7 yards on six attempts by starter LeSean McCoy.
The Bills’ starters played two series in the second half. Peterman finished his night 11 of 23 for 93 yards and a 58.8 passer rating. McDermott reiterated after the game that Taylor is the Bills’ starting quarterback when he’s healthy.
“I thought Nathan again came in and did a good job at times moving the ball,” McDermott said. “We had some penalties that stalled some drives. But the biggest thing I wanted to see Nathan do was handle the situation, and he did that. And the team did that.
“Sometimes going through a situation like this, as unfortunate as it is, watching your team respond in a sudden-change situation, those are situations that at times come up in the season.”
Peterman was replaced in the lineup by veteran T.J. Yates with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
Yates’ first pass of the night was intercepted by Ravens cornerback Jaylen Hill, who returned the ball to the Bills’ 15-yard line. Three plays later, the Ravens scored the go-ahead touchdown when quarterback Josh Woodrum – who was with the Bills in the spring – found running back Taquan Mizzell for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
The Ravens extended their lead to 13-7 with a field goal in the fourth quarter.
On the Bills’ penultimate drive, Yates made a nice throw to undrafted rookie free agent receiver Brandon Reilly for a 21-yard gain down the right sideline to the Ravens’ 15-yard line. On the next play, however, Reilly caught another pass, but was stripped by Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor as he fell to the ground. Onwuasor recovered the fumble with 1:04 remaining, allowing the Ravens to run more time off the clock. The Bills got one final possession that started with 31 seconds remaining, but the clock ran out as the Ravens improved to 3-0 in the preseason, while the Bills dropped to 0-3.
Of course, those records will be forgotten soon enough. If Taylor’s injury keeps him out for a significant amount of time, however, Saturday’s game won’t be.
“This is a contact sport,” McDermott said. “Injuries are a part of the game. They happen. Would I have like to have seen him out there for the duration that we had planned for him? Sure. But, that said, we have to take everything in stride as a football team.”