It was all off to a good start. Buffalo's defense got a first possession stop and the offense drove down the field on the ensuing series and put points on the board. Unfortunately the rest of the first half did not go nearly as smoothly for the Bills in their preseason opener in Washington as the Redskins piled up big yardage plays and points en route to a 21-3 halftime lead and a 42-17 victory at FedEx Field.
"We made too many mistakes to be a quality football team," said head coach Chan Gailey. "If you make that many mistakes, give up that many big plays, turn the ball over, penalties at crucial times you will not be a quality football team. And that's my job to make sure that we become that kind of football team that avoids those bad plays that turn games around."
Buffalo's first string offense, playing without three starting offensive linemen put together a solid opening drive marching 60 yards on nine plays to a 38-yard Rian Lindell field goal. Trent Edwards was 5-6 passing on the series for 44 yards.
"I thought we started good on the first drive," Edwards said. "We moved the ball well and converted some first downs. We started off well, but we didn't finish the way we wanted to."
Washington had an answer to Buffalo's scoring drive, as the rushing of Clinton Portis and passing of Donovan McNabb kept the chains moving. The Bills appeared to have the Redskins drive stopped after a third down incompletion by McNabb at their own 46, but a questionable roughing the passer call was called on Aaron Maybin extending the possession.
Seven plays later McNabb beat a safety blitz with a four-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Armstrong to take a 7-3 lead.
Buffalo then turned the ball over on their next possession when a 2nd-and-10 Edwards' pass intended for Lee Evans was picked off by DeAngelo Hall and returned to the Bills 12-yard line.
"It was a hitch route to Lee and DeAngelo sat on it," said Edwards. "He took it up and then he came back. I was expecting him to come back more, but DeAngelo came underneath it. That's something I just have to throw that one away. I can't make that mistake."
The Bills defense held firm on the first two plays, but again they were called for a third down penalty as Andra Davis was flagged for illegal contact giving Washington a fresh set of downs at the Bills three-yard line. Keiland Williams bounded into the end zone from two yards out for a touchdown on 2nd-and-goal and the extra point gave the Redskins an 11-point lead (14-3) less than a minute into the 2nd quarter.
"Two critical penalties that kept drives alive," said Davis. "If we don't have those penalties we get off the field."
Buffalo's offense on their next series went three-and-out after a pair of run plays by C.J. Spiller gained just four yards and a Trent Edwards third down pass fell incomplete.
With the defense right back out on the field, Rex Grossman led a 10-play Redskins drive where they picked up big chunks of yardage with pass plays of 22 and 21 yards to get Washington quickly in the red zone. Grossman finally capped the drive on 3rd-and-goal with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Fred Davis to make it 21-3 Washington.
Edwards and the first unit got one more series of work, but a false start on first down put them in long down and distance right off the bat. After two incomplete passes, Edwards did connect with Steve Johnson on 3rd-and-15, but the Bills number two receiver was held a yard short of the first down marker at Buffalo's own 37 forcing them to punt.
"On those last couple of drives, we've got to protect the ball," said Edwards. "We can't turn the ball over. We have to convert on those third downs."
Buffalo's second string defense held giving the offense one last possession in the first half as Ryan Fitzpatrick led the second unit, but again another pre-snap penalty put the Bills in long down and distance. Though Joique Bell overcame a 2nd-and-15 situation with a 17-yard run, the drive eventually stalled at the Buffalo 30 with a minute left in the half.
The Bills special teams was solid for the first half of play, including a good open field tackle by gunner Ashton Youboty on punt team, but they were victimized early in the third quarter on a 77-yard return for a touchdown by Brandon Banks to balloon the score to 28-3.
Washington put another touchdown on the board when Grossman connected with Devin Thomas, who split the corner and the safety on a deep post for a 44-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.
Shortly thereafter special teams also had a turnover when Ellis Lankster muffed a punt that was recovered by Washington.
"It was the big plays," said Gailey. "That was the bottom line. Punt return (for a touchdown), interception down to inside the 10 I believe, we fumble a punt, give them field position. We give up a big pass play. It was all phases were involved in allowing them to put up that many points."
Buffalo did put together an 85-yard drive late in the third quarter thanks in large part to a 43-yard run off right tackle by Chad Simpson to set up first-and-goal at the Washington five-yard line. On 2nd-and-goal Fitzpatrick was flushed from the pocket, but rolled out to buy time and tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver David Nelson.
Fitzpatrick and the reserves on offense would add another score early in the fourth quarter as Joique Bell busted a 28-yard run off right tackle for a touchdown to cut the Redskins lead to 35-17. But it's as close as Buffalo would get with the Redskins tacking on another late touchdown to make the final 42-17.
"My offensive line did an amazing job on that play," said Bell. "I kind of anticipated the hole opening and the tight end came around on a pull and he made an excellent block and it spread like the Red Sea so I was able to hit the hole and it wasn't really hard because my offensive line made it really easy for me so I give them all the credit for it."
Buffalo's players were left with the realization that they've got a good deal of ground still to cover this preseason.
"We have a lot work to do. A lot of work," said Davis. "We're still learning this defense. We'll learn from this. We'll review this tape and come back and get better next week. That's what the preseason is for."
Buffalo has a short week back at training camp before they host Indianapolis Thursday night in Toronto at the Rogers Centre for a 7:30 pm kickoff.