Buffalo’s first-half was a nightmare scenario, and much of what they accomplished in the second half came against second-teamers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Bills 27-14, scoring the game’s first 24 points in the first half. Like much of Buffalo’s preseason performance for the first-team offense, every step forward was seemingly followed by at least a step back.
On the first possession, after a first down, a potential second first down pass to Scott Chandler was intercepted when Chandler fell as E.J. Manuel was throwing, with safety Dashon Goldson getting the pick. Buffalo’s defense forced a three-and-out after defensive tackle Corbin Bryant sacked Josh McKown and forced a fumble.
Following a Bills three-and-out, McKown was intercepted by safety Da’Norris Searcy. But on the first play of the next possession, C.J. Spiller fumbled the ball, and the ball was brought back to Buffalo’s 39 yard line.
Five plays later, running back Doug Martin scored ran it in from one yard out, making it 7-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter. The Bills’ first half futility was only beginning.
The fifth possession for the Bills appeared to have some potential, with an 18 yard run from Spiller and Manuel scrambling to find Mike Williams for a 20 yard gain. However, a pair of holding penalties made it 1st and 30, and an illegal forward pass flag on Manuel made it 3rd and 40, leading to a punt.
An eight-play drive by Tampa Bay’s offense put kicker Connor Barth in position to make a 43 yard field goal, making it 10-0 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the half. Tampa Bay increased their lead less than a minute and half when defensive end Michael Johnson forced a fumble on a sack of Manuel, and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald scooped it up and ran into the endzone from 17 yards out, making it 17-0.
Buffalo’s next offensive possession resulted in another its second 3 and out and fourth punt. Afterward, the offensive first-teamers were gathered in a sideline huddle, with Fred Jackson yelling at teammates.
On the defensive side, the Buccaneers offense finally had a drive longer than 39 yards, as McCown led an 11 play, 82 yard drive that included a pair of third-down conversions to Vincent Jackson. Rookie receiver Mike Evans beat cornerback Ron Brooks for a 26 yard touchdown to make it 24-0 with just over a minute left in the half, with the Bills letting the game go into halftime.
In the first half, the Bills gained only 82 yards, 6 first downs, and had three turnovers on eight possessions. The offensive first-teamers played the third quarter, and moved the ball much more effectifely than in the first.
After forcing a punt on defense with the first-teamers playing against the Bucs backups, Manuel and his teammates came on the field and got three big pass plays through the air. Manuel found Woods for 20 yards, Chandler for 23, and finished a 9 play, 85 yard drive with a 16 yard touchdown to former Buccaneer Mike Williams, who returned to his hometown of Buffalo.
After forcing a three-and-out on defense with second-teamers against second-teamers, Manuel completed a pair of passes for first-downs, and Fred Jackson scored from 8 yards out to end a 6 play, 60 yard drive. In the third quarter, Manuel was 10-10 for 131 yards and a touchdown, and the Bills had 145 yards of offense, scoring touchdowns on two straight possessions after the first 18 for the first-team offense of the preseason did not include a single touchdown drive.
The Buccaneers added a field goal in the fourth quarter, with Dennis Dixon and Jeff Tuel not providing any more points for the Bills. After the game, head coach Doug Marrone addressed the first-team’s offense inability to get into the end zone for much of the preseason.
“I would say that’s obviously not good enough, but I think there’s a lot of information inside of all those different things,” said Marrone. “That’s one of the things we’re not doing a very good job of now. We’ve got to get playmakers on the field; we’ve got to get guys to make plays. We can’t not execute well.”
Marrone said the twelve penalties for 80 yards were “unacceptable”, and that the team will take “a look” at playing their starters in the final preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Thursday. Fred Jackson said that if Marrone wants the first-teamers playing, they’ll “be out there”.
“That’s just how a lot of guys are going to be and we need work,” said Jackson. “Just like anybody else, we can’t say we’re excused from anything, especially after the performance we had in the first half. We came out and made some plays in the second half but it wasn’t enough. We just have to continue to come out here and keep working.”
Manuel’s struggles this preseason, especially today, add fuel to the fire for some critics. The second-year quarterback said he took “a lot out of” scoring two touchdowns against Tampa Bay’s second teamers in the third quarter.
“You know I don’t care who you’re playing against I think it’s a matter of just having some pride about yourself and having pride as an offense,” said Manuel. “One of the things that we’re going to definitely start as an offense picking up is just product.
“We have to go out there and it’s a thing where you got to just fight against that next guy you really have to fight for each other. I feel like out there it’s just us we got to be out there and be there for each other we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot so to speak as far as the penalties or the mishaps and falling down all that stuff we have to eliminate those things.”
A disappointing dress rehearsal game for Buffalo has made a long preseason for starters even longer. How the first-teamers respond if they do play on Thursday against Detroit, in front of a home crowd that booed them for several portions of the game will show how much fight the Bills have.
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