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Observations: McDermott plays it close to the vest in 28-27 preseason victory

CHICAGO – Gamesmanship apparently never stops for Sean McDermott.

The Buffalo Bills’ head coach elected not to announce a starting lineup before Thursday’s preseason finale against the Bears at Soldier Field. What’s more, the Bills didn’t provide a list of those who would not play at all. For comparison, the Bears listed 37 players who would sit out the game.

That’s a good reminder of why the fourth preseason game is generally derided as one of the worst experiences in professional sports.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what McDermott hopes to accomplish with his secrecy. It was the fourth preseason game, after all. The idea that any sort of competitive advantage could be taken from it is absurd. The whole thing just seems silly, including the coach having every player dressed in full uniform for a game everyone knows the starters stay away from.

For what it’s worth, the Bills closed the preseason with a 28-27 win. Here are eight observations from the game.

1. Here’s who started on offense for the Bills: QB-AJ McCarron, RB-Travaris Cadet, WR-Zay Jones, WR-Corey Coleman, TE-Nick O’Leary, TE-Logan Thomas, LT-Marshall Newhouse, LG-Wyatt Teller, C-Adam Redmond, RG-Ike Boettger, RT-De’Ondre Wesley.

Jones playing is somewhat of a surprise, although the team just might want to get him snaps after he started training camp on the non-football injury list. Coleman playing would seem to indicate he’s on the roster bubble.

What’s more notable is who didn’t play, since that’s a good sign for their chances of making the 53-man roster. Included on that list would be tight end Jacob Croom, who may have locked up a roster spot behind starter Charles Clay.

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2. McCarron’s tough preseason continued. A shoulder injury suffered in the second game against Cleveland all but took him out of the starting quarterback race. He didn’t play in the third preseason game, partly because of that injury. He was in for the entire game Thursday, with some speculating the Bills could be showcasing him for a possible trade. If that’s the case, the first half did not help McCarron’s value. He threw a pick six when he tried to complete an out route to running back Travaris Cadet, but Bears cornerback Doran Gran read the play and stepped in front of the throw, returning it 33 yards for a touchdown.

McCarron threw a second interception in the second quarter, as his pass intended for Cadet was tipped at the line of scrimmage and pulled in by Bears linebacker John Timu.

In the fourth quarter, he led the Bills on four touchdown drives. He rushed for a 5-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, threw a nice 24-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster, threw a 6-yard TD pass to Malachi Dupre and a 6-yard TD pass to Keith Towbridge with 13 seconds left for the game-winner.

McCarron finished the game 13 of 34 for 156 yards and a 58.0 quarterback rating (his passer rating was 0.0 at one point).

The decision on what to do with McCarron in regards to the 53-man roster will be one of the more interesting developments come final cuts, which need to be made by 4 p.m. Saturday.

McDermott said that McCarron playing the entirety of the fourth preseason game was not a reflection of his roster status. He also said McCarron was "absolutely in the race" to start the season opener.

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3. If Coleman is indeed on the roster bubble, he didn’t do much to impress. He was targeted early by McCarron on a deep ball down the left sideline, but Coleman didn’t come close to tracking it down. Then in the second quarter, McCarron threw to Coleman along the right sideline, but the receiver showed poor field awareness and didn’t come close to staying inbounds. The Bills traded a 2020 seventh-round pick to Cleveland for Coleman, but that minimal compensation likely wouldn't keep them from cutting him.

4. Here’s who started on defense: DE-Ryan Russell, DE-Terrence Fede, DT-Adolphus Washington, DT-Tyrunn Walker, LB-Tanner Vallejo, LB-Deon Lacey, CB-Levi Wallace, CB-Breon Borders, CB-Ryan Carter, S-Dean Marlowe, S-Siran Neal.

Washington is the most notable on that list. The former third-round pick is fighting for the fourth defensive tackle job behind Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei and rookie Harrison Phillips. He’ll have to hold off Tyrunn Walker, Rickey Hatley and Albert Havili for that job. Washington did make a nice tackle for loss in the first quarter, bringing down Bears running back Taquan Mizzell. Washington played into the second half.

5. McDermott wasn’t happy with the number of penalties his team had taken in the first three preseason games – 36 in all, 32 of which were accepted. Things didn’t get much better in the first half against the Bears for one player in particular. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse was called for a pair of penalties, which gives him five in the last two games. In case you’re wondering, the Bills would save $1.25 million against the salary cap if Newhouse was released. In all, the Bills took four penalties for 50 yards in the first half, including two 15-yarders against Neal for lowering his head to initiate contact and cornerback Lafayette Pitts for a face mask.

6. The competition among Russell Bodine and Ryan Groy for the starting center job didn’t move forward Thursday, as neither player got into the game. The other remaining starting competition is for the team’s punting job. Colton Schmidt punted twice in the first half, the first of which was a beauty that went out at the Bears’ 2-yard line. The next was a line drive, but it got a good bounce and went for 45 yards.

Jon Ryan’s first punt sailed into the end zone for a touchback, a net of just 16 yards, while his second went for 47 yards.

7. Cadet might be on the outside looking in for a spot on the 53, but he stated his case in the third quarter with a 44-yard run that got the Bills into position for a 42-yard field goal by Stephen Hauschka. He had another nice run for 15 yards to end the third quarter. Cadet would be a nice depth player, but he looks to be at best the fourth running back, and if the team keeps that many it may elect to go with Taiwan Jones because of special teams.

8. The bottom of the Bills’ draft class has failed to impress all summer. Teller gave up a sack in the first half. Neal blew an open-field tackle in the third quarter. Sixth-round receiver Ray-Ray McCloud was not targeted in the passing game, although he did have a 9-yard punt return and 32-yard kick return. Special teams will have to be his ticket to a roster spot. Seventh-round receiver Austin Proehl also was not targeted. Some of those players will likely make the 53, but that will have more to do with their status as draft picks than anything they did this summer.

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