Bills head coach Chan Gailey said at the close of training camp at St. John Fisher that the absence of timing in the passing game wasn't the way they wanted to finish. Though the timing appeared to be there early when Buffalo took the field Saturday night against the Broncos in Denver, it waned after the opening drive in what wound up being a 24-10 loss.
"When you end up behind the sticks, a lot of teams end up in a bind, but we really end up in a bind," said Gailey. "We're not to the point yet where we can overcome a lot of those situations and we've got to get better at not taking negative plays."
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the first string offense got off to a decent start on their opening possession. C.J. Spiller was involved early with three carries for 19 yards, and back-to-back receptions by Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler moved Buffalo deep into Denver territory.
After Fred Jackson converted a 2nd-and-1 at the Denver 30 with an eight-yard run, Buffalo's drive stalled. Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn't connect with his receivers throwing three straight incompletions. The last on 3rd-and-10 Fitzpatrick was pressured and had to get rid of the ball forcing the Bills to settle for a 40-yard field goal from Rian Lindell and a 3-0 lead.
"We ran the ball effectively," said Fitzpatrick. "Unfortunately we didn't match that with a good passing game. So our drives were stalling because we couldn't get anything going in the air."
Buffalo's first team defense then got a stop on Denver's opening possession. On a 2nd-and-9 at the Broncos 46, Marcell Dareus dropped Kyle Orton for his second sack in as many games. Denver couldn't convert the ensuing play on 3rd-and-14 and were forced to punt.
"We were aggressive early," said Dareus. "They were trying to get (their run game) established. They produced a few short yardage runs, but I thought our run defense was better tonight."
Denver averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in the first half.
"I thought we played the run a lot better this week throughout the whole ball game," said Gailey. "But the ones had 60-something yards rushing against them. I feel like we're on track run defense-wise, we've just got a lot of work to do in pass coverage and the pass rush without blitzing them every snap."
The Bills offense unfortunately struggled to keep drives alive the remainder of the half. They went three-and-out and six-and-out on their next two possessions as the timing was off in the passing game with Buffalo's pass protection suspect at times.
"There's a lot of stuff that goes into it," said Fitzpatrick of the protection schemes. "But it starts with me, I have to play better. I have to throw the ball better. I have to stand in there better. We're lucky this is the preseason because that wasn't our best effort out there."
Fitzpatrick finished the day 6-17 passing for 44 yards and an interception off a deflected pass, as the Bills went 2-for-7 on third down conversions (29%).
While Buffalo's offense struggled, Denver's offense picked up steam. Kyle Orton did a good job buying time and the Broncos run game picked up as Denver went on a pair of long scoring drives that both lasted 10 plays. Willis McGahee capped both scoring drives with a one-yard run and a 13-yard touchdown reception to put the Broncos up 14-3 with six minutes left in the half.
The Bills defense had trouble getting off the field as Denver converted four of their five third downs in the first half and converted on some big plays of 18, 20 and 21 yards. Orton looked in command going 10-13 passing for 135 yards and a touchdown.
"Orton is an efficient passer," said Nick Barnett. "We made some mistakes out there – mixing up some coverages and doing different things. Overall he's a good passer and an efficient one, but nothing that we can't stop. We have to continue to work hard and do what we are supposed to do."
"I thought our pass defense we didn't have a good enough four man pass rush tonight to help our pass defense," said Gailey. "We've got to get better there."
Denver threatened to score again late in the first half, but was stopped when Spencer Johnson tipped a pass that was intercepted by Terrence McGee at Buffalo's goal line.
"It was very important not to let them score," said McGee. "I didn't even know the score but I knew they had two touchdowns. It was very important to stop one of their drives. So we wanted to come back out and try to do something."
In the third quarter Denver tacked on 10 points on a 49-yard Matt Prater field goal. That was followed by an efficient six-play 52-yard drive by the Broncos with Brady Quinn at quarterback, which was capped with a 24-yard touchdown reception by Britt Davis to make it 24-3.
Bills backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen did lead a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter to pull Buffalo to within 14 (24-10). Thigpen avoided pressure to make plays and keep the drive alive. He finished off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Felton Huggins, who dove to reach the ball over the goal line before going out of bounds.
Several Bills injuredBills WR Donald Jones, RB Johnny White and LB Arthur Moats were all injured in Saturday's game and did not return to the field. Receivers Naaman Roosevelt and Felton Huggins were also nicked up, but Gailey all the players would return home with the team.
"I know the injuries were of concern to everyone and the good news right now is there were no serious injuries out of the night," said Gailey. "Guys will miss a while, but they're going to eventually be fine."
On a 3rd-and-19 play from the Broncos 37-yard line in the second quarter, Ryan Fitzpatrick zipped a pass down the right sideline intended for Donald Jones. As he leaped to catch the pass he was laid out by Broncos safety Rahim Moore.
Moore was immediately flagged for hitting Jones in the head area when he was what the league describes as a defenseless player. Jones appeared to be out cold as the athletic training staff took their time before they helped him to his feet. He was taken to the locker room for evaluation and did not return.
Midway through the third quarter on a 1st-and-10 play at the Buffalo 20-yard line, Johnny White was slammed hard to the turf with the side of his helmet and shoulder the first thing to hit the ground. White remained motionless on the ground and the athletic training staff spent several minutes tending to him.
He was ultimately placed on a backboard and strapped down. He was then carefully lifted onto a cart and taken off the field. White was taken to a local Denver hospital for examination, but was cleared.
"I walked in there and they said he cleared everything and he's going home on the plane with us," said Gailey. "Knowing he's not staying here overnight to me means it's not that serious."
Second-year linebacker was also injured in the second half sustaining a leg injury and was taken to the locker room for evaluation. Gailey characterized it as a bruise.
Naaman Roosevelt and Felton Huggins also hobbled off the field late in the game with undisclosed leg injuries.
Back at One Bills DriveThe Bills resume their practice schedule on Monday back at One Bills Drive with an afternoon practice.