Two lackluster preseason showings by the Buffalo Bills' offense were erased with a stirring first half Saturday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The first-team offense finally showed signs of life led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who tossed touchdown strikes to Marcus Easley and Stevie Johnson as the Bills starters outscored the Jags, 17-10.
After the starters sat down for the evening, the game turned wild. The Bills trailed, 32-17, but rallied to tie the game at 32 and send the game into overtime after a four-yard TD pass from Tyler Thigpen to Paul Hubbard and two-point conversion from Thigpen to Hubbard.
The game finally ended when Rian Lindell hit a 40-yard field goal in the extra session. The Bills' 35-32 victory was their first preseason overtime game since 1985 when they tied Detroit, 10-10.
"We did some good things on both sides of the ball and it was good for us and we won in overtime," Buffalo coach Chan Gailey said. "That's good and we needed to do that."
The Bills' starting offense, which scored just six points in pedestrian losses at Chicago and Denver, pieced together two distinctly different touchdown drives in building an early 17-0 lead. Fitzpatrick drove his team 82 yards in 11 plays, capped by an 11-yard TD strike to Easley in the back of the end zone. The second took just eight seconds when Fitzpatrick dropped a pass into the hands of a streaking Johnson for 52 yards.
Buffalo outgained Jacksonville, 236-108, in the first half. The Bills gained just 90 first-half yards in last week's game against the Broncos.
"It was good," said Bills running back Fred Jackson about the offensive's quick start. "That was one of the things that we wanted to do, just come out and get a quick start. We felt like we could make some plays early and get some good momentum going into the second quarter."
Gailey said this week that the starters would play into the third quarter, but it was obvious he saw enough in the first half and the backups entered the game at the start of the third quarter.
Fitzpatrick was impressive in completing his first 11 passes and finished 11 of 12 for 165 yards and no interceptions. Last week against Denver, he was just 6 of 16 for a paltry 44 yards. His final pass of the game was broken up by Jacksonville safety Dawan Landry.
"We said all along, we wanted to carry over what we've been doing in practice onto the game field and I think we did a good job of that," Fitzpatrick said. "Hopefully, we can just build on it and keep going for [the season opener] Sept. 11."
Fitzpatrick was much better than his counterpart David Garrard, who was 8 of 17 for 87 yards. Garrard and most of the Jacksonville starters played into the third quarter. Jacksonville scored its first TD on a 4-yard scramble by Garrard with 4:49 left then tacked on a 45-yard field goal by Josh Scobee just before halftime.
The Bills' defense held Jacksonville to 2 of 6 on third down and just 30 yards rushing.
"I think we were able to shut down the run and then in turn we put them in passing situations and we were able to get after [Garrard] a little bit," said defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who recorded a sack in the second quarter. "There at the end of the half, giving up 10 points the way that we did is inexcusable. Everything they got there we gave to them."
Much of last week's news centered on who would start at running back for the Bills, and it was the veteran Jackson who opened the game. Jackson finished with nine carries for 33 yards, including a long of 13 while backup C.J. Spiller had four rushes for 21 yards and finished with 5.3 yards a carry. One of the highlights of the evening, however, was when Jackson beat ex-teammate Paul Posluszny for a 30-yard reception.
"It was one-on-one with the linebacker," Jackson said. "We feel like we can win every time. Fitzpatrick has all the confidence in the world. He saw it and I saw it and we were able to complete it."
Brad Smith also saw snaps at quarterback and wide receiver, including starting the second half in the slot. He rushed three times for 15 yards and misfired on his only pass attempt.
After scoring on their first drive, a 21-yard Lindell field goal capping a 13-play drive that took 8:40, the Bills marched 82 yards to a touchdown which chewed up 5:10 on 11 plays and was capped by Easley's 11-yard TD. Easley had 29 yards in receptions on the drive, including a 15-yarder caught near the sideline. Fitzpatrick found Johnson for a short pass on third-and-2 for six yards to extent the drive, then Jackson had two carries for a combined 10 yards to reach the Jags' 11. Then Fitzpatrick found Easley for the TD. The third scoring drive didn't take long at all.
Johnson the beat Jacksonville corner Rashean Mathis down the right sideline and Fitzpatrick floated a pass into his arms.