DETROIT – For the most part, the Buffalo Bills’ 17-10 loss against the Detroit Lions on Thursday night lived down to the typically low expectations for a fourth preseason game with no starters playing for either side.
It had the requisite sloppiness, beginning with an offside penalty on the Bills on the opening kickoff at Ford Field. And that didn’t sit well with coach Rex Ryan, whose team closed the preseason at 2-2.
“We did some of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen in football,” Ryan said. “That was awful. … Just some dumb things, so I’m not real happy.”
Fourth-string quarterback Matt Simms, making his first start of the preseason and playing the entire game, had not one but two fumbled snap exchanges in the first half as he struggled to get in sync with Kraig Urbik, who started at center. Simms would have a third fumble while being spun around on a sack late in the third quarter. “A football follies play,” Ryan called it.
There was the illegal formation on rookie running back Bronson Hill while the Lions were in punt formation that gave Detroit a first down at the Buffalo 44.
And there was yet another missed field-goal attempt by Dan Carpenter, who finished the preseason 3 of 6 and also missed a 33-yard extra-point try.
“Certainly, we’ve got some issues,” Ryan said. “Hell, we can’t make a field goal. So we’d better be looking for any guy that’s ever kicked a football in his life.” They “will get an opportunity here. I’m tired of seeing us miss a field goal. We’ve got a kickoff guy” Jordan Gay “and we miss field goals. I don’t get it.
“I don’t know if there’s any out there, but nobody gets this job by default. I’m very disappointed in that, and I don’t care who knows it.”
The game did represent an opportunity for some of the players on the bubble to make a final case to survive Saturday’s final cuts to the NFL’s 53-man roster limit. Three of those included Urbik, who started most of last season at offensive guard but clearly seems out of place at center; Cyril Richardson, who started part of last season at guard, and Cyrus Kouandjio, who had been competing to start at right tackle before losing out to incumbent Seantrel Henderson. Additionally, running back Bryce Brown made his bid to fill a key backup role that opened up with the release of Fred Jackson by rushing for a game-high 37 yards on nine carries.
For the Bills, most of the focus was on Simms, who isn’t likely to survive the cut but figures to have a good chance to be placed on the practice squad and become their third quarterback if he clears waivers. EJ Manuel was in pads and available to play Thursday night if Simms was injured, but he watched from the sidelines along with starter Tyrod Taylor and fellow No. 2 candidate Matt Cassel.
In completing 22 of 38 passes for 223 yards, Simms showed good mobility, often having to scramble behind a leaky offensive line. He showed toughness, too, standing tall in the face of pressure. But he had problems with ball security and accuracy, especially in the second half. He also wasn’t helped by receivers dropping passes.
The Bills did rebound from Hill’s penalty when, four plays later, Dan Orlovsky threw a pass that Jeremy Ross caught before taking a hard hit by cornerback Merrill Noel that knocked the receiver back off his feet. As Ross hit the turf, the ball popped up, Brooks snatched it and raced to the end zone to give the Bills a 7-0 lead with 2:16 left in the first quarter.
But Brooks’ shining moment was short-lived.
Two plays into Detroit’s next possession, he drew a 36-yard pass-interference penalty. Two plays later, Kellen Moore replaced Orlovsky and then connected with tight end Casey Pierce for a 15-yard gain to help set up a 41-yard Matt Prater field goal to cut the margin to 7-3 six seconds into the second quarter.
Another miscue wound up costing the Bills a scoring chance.
With 9:17 left in the second quarter and the Bills facing a third-and-9, Simms took a hard hit from blitzing safety Isaiah Johnson but still delivered a 12-yard pass to Marcus Thigpen. A 34-yard pass interference on Nevin Lawson moved the Bills deep into Detroit territory.
But the drive was short-circuited when Simms lost his second fumble on a center exchange that the Lions recovered at their own 25.
Four plays later, Moore beat a cover-zero blitz with throw over the middle to TJ Jones, who had nothing but green in front of him for a 64-yard touchdown that put the Lions in front, 10-7, with 5:02 left in the half.
With the help of Simms passes of 21 yards to tight end MarQueis Gray and 19 yards to rookie wide receiver Dez Lewis, the Bills tied the game at 10-10 on a 43-yard Carpenter field goal just before halftime.
In the third quarter, Simms led a drive from the Bills’ 26-yard line to the Lions’ 22, setting up a 40-yard Carpenter field-goal attempt that hit the right upright and effectively barricaded him in Ryan’s doghouse.
Late in the third quarter, Simms fired a perfect strike over the middle to a wide-open Lewis for a 28-yard gain. He kept the drive alive when, on fourth-and-2, Simms connected with rookie tight end Nick O’Leary for 8 yards.
However, on the very next play, linebacker Josh Bynes wrapped up Simms and as he spun him to the ground, the quarterback fumbled backwards. Defensive tackle Kerry Hyder recovered 38 yards downfield at the Buffalo 37 and the Lions went on to score.
“One thing I’m happy about is we’ve got a hell of a roster,” Ryan said of the players who will be on the team after Saturday’s final cuts.
“We’ve got a good football team.”