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Jerry Sullivan: Bills-Lions a game even Roger Goodell couldn't love

Jerry Sullivan

Who says the preseason finale is a meaningless exercise? The Bills made history on Thursday night at New Era Field, beating the Lions, 27-17, in the traditional exhibition finale for the first time in a decade.

Seriously, the Bills had lost nine straight to Detroit in the NFL's fond, forgettable preseason rivalry. Before Thursday's breakthrough, they hadn't won the late August gridiron classic since a 16-13 win in Detroit in 2007.

Meaningless? Losing nine in a row when the primary objective for either team is not getting any significant players injured is a remarkable achievement. It's even more unlikely than missing the playoffs 17 years in a row.

But for sheer entertainment value, this wasn't quite as compelling as Celery's big win in the mascot race at Coca Cola Field on Wednesday.

What can you say when the most pressing issue heading into the exhibition finale was whether rookie Nathan Peterman would see any action at quarterback? The thinking was, the Bills might not risk Peterman getting hurt with Tyrod Taylor and T.J. Yates in the concussion protocol.

That's the overriding objective in the last of these ripoffs, not getting any relevant players hurt while obscure backups battle for the two or three spots that are up for grabs on the roster. Oh, I almost forgot that critical John Miller-Vlad Ducasse clash for the starting right guard slot.

Ducasse, Miller still battling for Bills' starting right guard spot

Judging from the stands at New Era Field, the fans weren't terribly excited about the proceedings, either. I'll bet they'd attract a larger, more involved crowd if they sold tickets and had Brandon Beane announce the roster cuts at midfield on Saturday.

Hey, I'm not the only one who thinks this fourth preseason affair is a waste of time. Most fans agree. So does the esteemed commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has made it clear that he believes three preseason games is enough.

Goodell told Giants season-ticket holders early this month that three preseason tilts would probably be sufficient. Some day, the number could drop to two (be still my heart!). Goodell said it's the "No. 1 thing I hear," and said four preseason games don't measure up to the league's lofty standards.

On Wednesday, the commissioner reiterated his concerns at the Colts Kickoff Luncheon. Goodell said he spoke with the Indianapolis coaches, who told him they can accomplish their preparation and roster objectives with only three preseason games. But don't tell Bills coach Sean McDermott, who finally got his first win as a head coach in the fourth preseason outing.

"For a first-time head coach, I think it was good for us to get out there and evaluate some of our younger players," McDermott said. "We were looking at a couple of positions of competition, where we had some position battles going on, and for us, in the position we're in, it was good to get that fourth game and see our guys go out there and compete."

If Goodell gets his way, there won't be any fourth preseason games. He said it could happen before the bargaining agreement with the players' union expires after the 2020 season, if the union is willing. Of course, if Goodell truly believes the preseason is an inferior product, he should end the practice of charging customers full-price. And if he's that concerned about player safety, he shouldn't push the outlandish claim that Thursday night games are better than Sunday contests.

But at least he's seen the light on the fourth preseason game. It's long overdue -- like the Bills' decision to put the late Cookie Gilchrist on the Wall of Fame.

Mark Gaughan: Cookie Gilchrist's Wall-of-Fame honor rights oversight

Gilchrist was a great player. He also took stands for African-Americans long before Colin Kaepernick took a knee. Gilchrist led a black boycott of the 1965 AFL All-Star game. The players objected to playing in New Orleans, where Jim Crow customs persisted. The players prevailed. The game was moved to Houston.

It's remarkable to think that more than 50 years ago, two years before Muhammad Ali refused induction into the armed services, Gilchrist helped stare down a league and a city -- and won. He was willing to risk everything at a time when athletes had little bargaining power. Ralph Wilson, weary of Gilchrist hectoring him for more money, traded him to Denver in February of 1965, one month after the All-Star boycott.

I wonder what Cookie would think of the preseason games, or having to play on Thursday nights? He'd probably be pushing the union to go on strike for fully guaranteed contracts and a bigger piece of the revenue pie.

Meanwhile, back at New Era, the Bills did play Peterman for a quarter before turning to former Ball State star Keith Wenning. Playing Peterman was smart.  If he did have to play against the Jets in the opener, it was worth risking him for a couple of series of live action.

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Peterman looked good, completing 9 of 11 passes for 81 yards and driving the Bills to a 10-0 lead. He was decisive and accurate. One of his incompletions was a drop near the end zone by Nick O'Leary. He continued to click with rookie Brandon Reilly, who should make the team.

This will only intensify the calls for Peterman to be the starter. After all, the backup quarterback is generally the most popular guy in town (unless he's EJ Manuel). Peterman was thought to be the most "NFL-ready" quarterback in last year's draft, and you could see why.

But it's a little early to anoint him the next Daryle Lamonica. Peterman reminds me more of Trent Edwards. He has done a lot of checking down, which becomes a lot more problematic when opposing defenses are playing for real. He hasn't made a significant deep throw yet.

The infatuation with Peterman tells you how desperate fans are to find a franchise QB who can lead the Bills out of the wilderness. Peterman might be the guy, but the excitement will be come when they're clamoring for a guy drafted in the top five of the draft, not the fifth round.

Meaningless? Bills fans better hope so. In 2008, the year the Lions beat them to begin the nine-year winning streak, Detroit went 0-16 in the regular season.

There's no keeping him down: How Sean McDermott ascended to coach of the Bills

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