DETROIT – Everything you hate about the preseason was on display Friday night inside Ford Field.
Injuries? The Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions had those.
Penalties? Both sides drew their fair share of flags.
Sloppy play? Put a check in that category, too.
The Bills ended up winning, 24-20, although the only true winners might have been the DirecTV customers who were blacked out of watching the game on Ch. 4.
The bad news for both teams started almost immediately. Lions star middle linebacker Jarrad Davis was injured on the second play from scrimmage when he got his legs rolled up from behind by teammate Devon Kennard while chasing Bills running back LeSean McCoy. Davis was eventually carted off the field.
The play didn’t even count, as Bills center Jon Feliciano was hit with a holding penalty — the first of too many flags on the night. The penalty led to a three-and-out for the offense. Punter Corey Bojorquez then got off an ugly-looking punt with a poor hang time, although it did get a favorable bounce to net 40 yards.
That was the start of what was an ugly first half for the Bills’ special teams. After the defense forced a Detroit punt on the Lions’ first possession, Buffalo defensive end Mike Love was called for holding during the punt return, backing the offense up inside its own 10-yard line. Another three-and-out ensued, followed by a second straight poor punt by Bojorquez.
The ugliness wasn’t limited to the Bills’ side, though. Lions punt returner Jamal Agnew muffed the punt, and was lucky to jump on the loose ball, giving Bojorquez a 50-yard punt he probably didn’t deserve.
If there was a silver lining in the sea of ugliness that was the first half, it was the performance of the Bills’ starting defense, which held the Lions to a field goal after Detroit was gifted a drive start at the Buffalo 27-yard line. That came after Bills receiver Cole Beasley lost a fumble after a 14-yard completion from Josh Allen.
On the Bills’ next possession, the injury bug started to bite. Left guard Quinton Spain was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury that forced him to be carted to the locker room from the sideline. For an offensive line that was already without center Mitch Morse and right tackle Ty Nsekhe — both projected starters — Spain’s injury just complicates matters more.
“We try and be very calculated about it. At the same time, get accomplished what we wanted to get accomplished,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “But yeah, I’m holding my breath there. We’ve just got to continue to move forward.”
The next play after Spain got hurt was the worst of the night — even if it was negated by a penalty. Forced from the pocket, Allen scrambled toward the right sideline before throwing across his body to the middle of the field — a no-no at any level of football. The ball was easily intercepted by Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, but the play didn’t count because of a roughing-the-passer penalty against Detroit linebacker Christian Jones.
Have we mentioned yet that this was ugly on both sides?
“It’s concerning regardless of who is out there,” McDermott said of the sloppy play. “For as much as we talk about it and work on it. Obviously, we’ve got to make some adjustments in terms of getting in better position, playing with better technique.”
The second quarter started with the Bills getting another injury scare. Running back Frank Gore rumbled down the left sideline for a 27-yard gain before absorbing a late hit from Lions safety Tracy Walker. Trainers attended to Gore as the Bills’ sideline reacted angrily to the hit. Gore eventually as able to return to the game.
“It’s preseason — a lot of young guys out there who are trying to make the team,” Gore said. “I understand. I wish he could have pulled up. I guess whoever it was, I don’t know what number it was, I guess he’s trying his best to look good for his coaches. It’s football, and it’s all good.”
The Bills took the lead two plays after Gore got hurt on a 6-yard touchdown run by Isaiah McKenzie on a jet sweep.
On the Lions’ ensuing possession, Bills cornerback Levi Wallace was shaken up on a play in which Detroit tight end T.J. Hockenson picked up 32 yards on a completion from Matthew Stafford. The Lions would cap that drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to running back Ty Johnson, who got behind Bills linebacker Matt Milano.
Buffalo’s special-teams miscues continued on the ensuing kickoff, as Victor Bolden Jr. lost a fumble that set Detroit up at the Bills’ 18-yard line. On first down, the Bills again had to hold their breath when No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White went down. White suffered a quad contusion and was ruled out for the game.
The Buffalo defense again held the Lions out of the end zone, with Detroit failing to convert a fourth-and-goal play from the Bills’ 3-yard line.
After the teams traded punts, the Bills’ offense went to work with 3:37 remaining in the first half. Allen, who at that point was just 1 of 4 for 14 yards, started to find a rhythm – completing back-to-back passes to John Brown that covered 35 yards. A 21-yard run by LeSean McCoy and a horse-collar penalty against the Lions at the end of it put the ball inside the Detroit 10-yard line. On first and goal from the Detroit 9-yard line, Devin Singletary put the Bills up with a touchdown run.
Again, though, the Bills’ special teams had a miscue, giving up a 47-yard kick return to Agnew. That got the Lions in range for a 61-yard field goal by Matt Prater that ended the first half and cut the Lions’ deficit to 14-13.
The Bills stretched their lead to 17-13 on their first drive of the second half. Matt Barkley replaced Allen at quarterback and drove the team to the Detroit 19-yard line before the offense started going backward and had to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Stephen Hauschka.
The Bills extended the lead to 24-13 on their next possession. Barkley, who has been sharp this preseason, started the drive with a 10-yard completion to Zay Jones. Two plays later, the pair hooked up for a 29-yard completion down the right sideline – a play that stood up after the Lions unsuccessfully challenged for offensive pass interference.
A pair of 10-yard completions to T.J. Yeldon, who finished the night with three catches for 51 yards, got the Bills inside the Detroit red zone. Barkley then found Duke Williams for a 16-yard touchdown grab. The Bills’ biggest receiver elevated over Lions cornerback Andre Chachere to pull in a perfect throw, tightening the race for the Bills’ sixth receiver spot (assuming the team keeps that many on the 53-man roster).
Barkley finished the night 12 of 14 for 142 yards and one touchdown. He was replaced in the fourth quarter by Tyree Jackson. The University at Buffalo product went 2 of 4 for 24 yards.
Detroit trimmed the Bills’ lead to 24-20 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Thompson in the fourth quarter.
The Lions got the ball back and were driving toward the go-ahead points, but Bills rookie safety Jaquan Johnson made a big play, stripping Lions receiver Travis Fulgham and recovering the fumble with 2:50 remaining. Running back Marcus Murphy picked up a first down on a third-and-3 run at the two-minute warning, allowing the Bills to run out the clock and improve to 3-0 in the preseason.