After a lackluster performance in the preseason opener, Buffalo's first string offense bounced back in impressive fashion as they made use of some of their top playmakers to put up 14 points on the board early. The defense chipped in with four takeaways and a touchdown of their own en route to a 34-21 victory over Indianapolis.
"I think we made a step this week," said head coach Chan Gailey. "What I told our team was you have to keep making steps forward and I thought we made a step forward in this ball game. Hopefully you can do that all the time. But when you get more turnovers and don't turn the ball over, and you get one of those returned for a touchdown you win most of the time."
Following a short opening possession by the Colts in which they went three-and-out, Buffalo's offense struck quickly. Trent Edwards hit Roscoe Parrish along the far sideline for an 11-yard gain for a first down. Parrish then followed up with a six-yard pickup on a reverse.
C.J. Spiller, starting in place of the injured Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, converted a 2nd-and-4 with a four-yard carry to move the chains again. On the next play from scrimmage, Spiller showed his elusiveness and power as he broke three tackles to rip off a 31-yard touchdown run giving the Bills an early 7-0 lead.
"The offensive line did a great job blocking up front. Coming in we knew how they were going to play, how we knew they were a fast defense and how they were going to probably overrun a couple of our plays," said Spiller. "I just read my keys and Corey (McIntyre) did a great job. I just cut back, made a guy miss and it felt good to get in there."
Peyton Manning and the Colts' offense however, answered with a seven-play 63-yard scoring drive capped by a 17-yard Joseph Addai touchdown run. Following a quick three-and-out by Buffalo's offense the Colts were on the march again. However, on a 2nd-and-9 play at the Bills 27-yard line, a Manning pass intended for Anthony Gonzalez went through the receiver's hands and Terrence McGee intercepted the pass just before it hit the carpet. McGee got back to his feet and sprinted 78 yards for the touchdown and a 14-7 Bills edge midway through the first quarter.
"Basically Drayton Florence tipped the ball and I was just in the right spot at the right time," McGee said. "I happened to catch the ball before it hit the ground. At first, I thought someone was going to tackle me so I just took off. My team did the blocking and got me to the end zone."
It wasn't the first time McGee victimized the Colts in the preseason as he had a 68-yard fumble return for a score the last time Buffalo faced Indianapolis back in 2008.
Indianapolis was able to tie the score again after an exchange of possessions. Buffalo went three-and-out after some breakdowns in protection including a third down play where Edwards got his helmet knocked clean off his head on a pressure which also chipped his tooth.
The Colts struck quickly after a 49-yard punt return by Devin Moore set his offense up at the Bills 17-yard line. Manning, despite an incomplete pass and false start penalty, was able to hit tight end Jacob Tamme down the seam for a 21-yard touchdown reception on a 3rd-and-14 play to make it 14 all.
Buffalo's offense went back up almost immediately on the ensuing possession. Following a three-yard carry by Spiller on first down, Edwards got good protection from his line on a 2nd-and-7 from his own 31 and hit a wide open Lee Evans 40 yards downfield for a 69-yard touchdown catch that brought the crowd at the Rogers Centre to their feet, making it 21-14 Buffalo.
"It was just a deep flag route and Steve (Johnson) did a good job on his over-route occupying the safety," said Edwards. "It's just a matter of taking seven steps and throwing it as far as you can. Lee went and got it. We're going to make our mistakes, but we have to come back and be ready to throw the ball when we do have time to protect."
Gailey was proud of the way Edwards responded after taking a hard hit the series before.
"I never thought anything less would happen to be honest with you," Gailey said. "I think all of our guys have got moxie. And you've got to have moxie to play quarterback in this league. I was impressed with that. I was really impressed with it. And I asked him after he got hit and if he was okay and he didn't even flinch. He said he was fine. I didn't even hesitate to throw the ball when he went back out there. I think he's a tough guy."
Edwards wound up going 5-8 passing for 93 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 142.2, while Spiller had 54 yards rushing on 10 carries (5.3 avg.).
"That's a great defense we just went up against and that's a big confidence booster," Spiller said. "Those guys did a great job of covering them up and opening the running lanes. And then you've seen on the pass protection, if we just give Trent some time, he makes big plays for us."
And though the starting offense had a couple of three-and-outs, putting touchdowns on the board was the biggest sign of improvement from the unit's performance a week ago.
"I thought we had a couple of good and bad drives," said Edwards. "We talked about just getting first downs, moving the chains and not turning the ball over. In years past we kind of ran into problems where we would let the momentum get to us. I feel like once the other team gets the momentum that we haven't able to get it back.
"I felt like we did a good job of responding. When they throw a touchdown pass, we came back and threw a touchdown pass. So we need to do a better job of that, which we did tonight. That's something we didn't do last year, so we need to make sure we handle the momentum swings a little bit better and just be able to move the ball down the field and protect."
Indianapolis would tie the score a third time in the first half when Taj Smith accounted for all 81 yards of the Colts scoring drive on two straight receptions. The first a 38-yarder followed by a 43-yard touchdown reception down the far sideline to knot up the score at 21.
Brian Brohm and the second unit offense would enter the game on the next offensive series for Buffalo. After a tough start on the first two plays, Brohm and company settled down and methodically drove 67 yards on 13 plays. A nice over the shoulder touch pass to Chad Jackson along the near sideline went for 26 yards to set up 1st-and-goal at the seven-yard line.
Unfortunately after a two-yard run by Chad Simpson on first-and-goal, Brohm was unable to connect with intended receivers Simpson and Jackson on his next two pass attempts. The Bills took a 24-yard field goal from Rian Lindell just before the half to go into the locker room up 24-21.
In the second half Brohm was hitting his targets. In the third quarter alone he was 6-8 for 41 yards and that continued into the fourth quarter. Head coach Chan Gailey stated that he wanted to see good accuracy from Brohm and for the most part he delivered. He finished the night 14-21 for 125 yards with a passer rating of 82.4.
Buffalo got another opportunity to put points on the board midway through the fourth quarter when rookie safety Dominique Harris sacked Tim Hiller forcing a fumble, which was recovered by fellow rookie Arthur Moats at the Colts' 22-yard line. The Indianapolis defense stiffened however, after the turnover and Buffalo took a 37-yard field goal from Lindell for a 27-21 lead with 7:49 left in the game.
Before the game was over Levi Brown and the reserves added a touchdown drive thanks in large part to some good run blocking up front and hard running by Joique Bell, who capped the drive with a two-yard touchdown run to close out the scoring.
The Bills resume training camp practices Saturday afternoon. They get more than a week to regroup for their next preseason game, which will be at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Saturday Aug. 28th against Cincinnati. Kickoff for the Kid's Day game is set for 6:30 pm.