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Bills first teamers learn from first reps of the preseason and Damar Hamlin has a "bucket list" night


Buffalo's first teamers both on offense and defense saw a fair share of snaps in the Bills second preseason game against the Steelers. Although the game didn't go in Buffalo's favor, the starters gained valuable reps as they prepare for their first game of the 2023 season.

Josh Allen and many offensive starters played for the entire first quarter. Allen finished his day completing seven of 10 passing attempts for 64 yards.

"It felt good to be back out there playing against another team," Allen said. "That's a good team right there. They were hungry. They wanted it today, but a lot to learn from. I'm glad we're going through this now as opposed to during the season. But yeah, we've got to be ready to go on all phases."

Allen played in three drives on offense against the Steelers before being replaced by quarterback Matt Barkley. The Bills gained 66 yards of offense in the first quarter but also had six penalties for 46 yards.

"We've got to make the adjustments we need to make, just overall all of us take ownership, take responsibility and work our tails off this week to get ourselves where we need to be," head coach Sean McDermott said. "It's clear we're not where we need to be right now."

"We're just going to get into our film room and get back to working against our defense for the time being," Allen said. "The start of the season is a couple weeks away, so we've got to be prepared and focused on that and get ready for the Jets on Monday night."

The Bills still have two weeks left of training camp practices before they turn the page to in-season practices.

When asked about the protection Allen had in the pocket, the QB said he could have done more when facing pressure.

"I probably could have gotten the ball out of my hands a little bit quicker, made a couple quicker reads," Allen said. "I'm not concerned, either. That's a really good front that we just played. They've got some real dudes on that defensive line, so I think it was good for our offensive line to see. 

"During the season when we game plan for a team like that, we'll make sure that we have parameters in place to try to negate that as much as we can, but it being the preseason, obviously just going out there and trying to call our plays and trying to work on some things. That's what we did tonight."

One thing that was working for Allen on Saturday night was his connection with wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis and rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid. The QB connected with the three for a combined five catches for 59 receiving yards. Davis was the leader of the pack with two receptions for 29 receiving yards.

"I think Gabe's had a tremendous camp, the best one of his career so far," Allen shared. "He's a special player. He does so many things for us, and that's not going to change."

On defense, Buffalo's first team gave up a few big plays in the first quarter that resulted in two touchdowns. One was a 62-yard rush by Jaylen Warren on the first drive of the game and the other was a 25-yard TD catch by Pat Freiermuth on the second drive. 

"They outplayed us," McDermott said. "They wanted it more than we did. That was evident from the way that they played. And then on top of that, we're beating ourselves with penalties."

Micah Hyde, Dane Jackson and Taron Johnson led the way with two tackles each in the first quarter. Jackson also had one pass defensed.

The Bills have one preseason game left, which will be against the Bears on Saturday, August 26 at 1 p.m. Allen said he's not sure if he or other starters will play again.

"I'm very confident in our guys, and I'm not going to let this deter that at all," Allen said of their performance. "Whatever coach asks us to do is a different story. I can't worry about that. I've just got to work on being the best quarterback, the best teammate I can be for the Buffalo Bills."

Damar Hamlin has "Bucket List" night

Damar Hamlin grew up less than five miles away from Acrisure Stadium and spent five seasons playing in it as a Pittsburgh Panther. Hamlin was back in his home stadium on Saturday night for Buffalo's second preseason game. The only difference this time was the safety was playing in a different uniform and on a different sideline.

It didn't matter what sideline he was on because Hamlin said being back as an NFL player felt like a bucket list item.

"Definitely off the bucket list," Hamlin said. "I always wanted to come back into the stadium as a pro and play in front of the home city."

Check out the best game photos from the second preseason game in 2023. This gallery is presented by Gabe's Collision.

Hamlin recorded three tackles against the Steelers in his second game back since his cardiac arrest on January 2. The safety said the experience brought him back to his days at Pitt.

"It kind of felt like college again, felt like that feeling I got when I was playing at Pitt - it smelled the same, the same energy," Hamlin described. "So, it was really like taking me back to when I was on the chase and when I was hungry."

After Hamlin made his first tackle of the night, both Bills and Steelers fans cheered, including his parents and brother who were in the first row.

"Of course I heard it," Hamlin said of the roars. "It made me want to make some more plays, but it's just special, man. It's just a testament to the love that's shown from my city and just, they care about me and that's why I stay 10 toes down trying to do everything I can to make this city a better place."

The highlight of the night came when Sean McDermott asked Hamlin and teammate Dane Jackson, who is also a Pittsburgh native and played at Pitt, if they wanted to go out for the coin toss.

"Listen, those guys are hometown Pittsburgh guys, and I know what this place means to them," McDermott said. "And they've both been tremendous pro for us, for multiple reasons. And so, I just think that's the right thing to do."

"I was shocked," Hamlin said of when McDermott asked him to be a part of the coin toss. "I was like wowed away by it because this team, we got a lot of leaders, we got a lot of people that could be walking out there for that coin toss. It's a lot more than who will have that C on their chest once that's the time. We got a lot of leaders. We got a lot of veterans. So, for my coach to give me that moment, it was truly special. It felt like college again, leading out the troops. And to win the coin toss and get to have our decision to go the way we want it. It was super special man, made me feel like a big kid out there for real."

After the game, Hamlin gave his jersey to his former college quarterback and current Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett. Hamlin said he also wants to make sure Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin gets one because Tomlin is someone he's looked up to for a long time.

"Just how much he's meant to the city, and just growing up being at Pitt, even before Pitt, just seeing what culture he brought to the city of Pittsburgh," Hamlin said of watching Tomlin. "And just him allowing us to be so close to them when I was at Pitt, it meant a lot to me. And, it really shaped my vision for myself of how I wanted to go about becoming a pro."

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Buffalo Bills, Preseason, August 19, 2023 at Acrisure Stadium.

Being back in his hometown playing in front of the people who love him, prayed for him and continue to show him unwavering support was something he won't forget.

"It was really special, like a moment of serendipity, just life coming full circle for me," Hamlin shared. "Just going through what I went through my entire life, staying home, choosing to stay at Pitt out of so many schools. Just staying home and then how much love that I poured into the city and how much love was poured into me. And then to come back home, my second preseason game, getting back to playing, it's back at home right in my backyard… Pittsburgh is truly my home and will forever be my home no matter what. So, it was a good feeling all week."

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