For the second straight preseason game Buffalo performed admirably as a team as they once again erased an early deficit and outscored their opponent over the final three quarters in a 20-16 win over the Vikings. The quarterback competition however, took center stage as Kevin Kolb got his first start coming off a knee injury.
Kolb got off to an unsteady start as his accuracy was a bit off in the early going. He undershot C.J. Spiller on a third down swing pass to the right flat that led to a punt leading to a three-and-out. On the team's second possession his intended pass for Marquise Goodwin on another third down play was slightly off the mark, bounced off cornerback Xavier Rhodes' shoulder pad into the arms of Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford for an interception.
The veteran signal caller was 1-4 passing for 10 yards on the team's first three possessions as Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett focused on the run game early.
"I was a little bit disappointed there in the first quarter with myself, but it's been a long time since I've seen live action, been a long time since I've been on the field with the injury stuff from last season. I'll just keep getting better, keep pushing."
Minnesota got on the scoreboard first. Following a rough start in which they went three-and-out on their first three possessions, Christian Ponder, with the help of a pair of defensive penalties, engineered a 12-play drive near the end of the first quarter.
After Toby Gerhart converted a 3rd-and-1 with a two-yard gain, Ponder hit Kyle Rudolph for a 25-yard gain to the Bills 11-yard line.
Buffalo's defense stiffened from there however, as Alex Carrington chased Ponder to the sideline forcing an incompletion, and 3rd-and-8 from the nine-yard line, Marcell Dareus tossed aside a fullback in pass protection and dropped Ponder for a loss. It forced Minnesota to take a 36-yard field goal from Blair Walsh.
"We're just trying to execute play calls," said Carrington. "That's all. Just play hard, play fast."
Buffalo's defense was the first unit to put points on the board for the Bills as a botched snap by Minnesota at their own 23-yard line sent the ball rolling into the end zone where Jamie Blatnick recovered it for a touchdown to make it 7-3 midway through the second quarter.
"I thought early on that our defense played very well, made some things happen," said head coach Doug Marrone. "They were excellent on third down."
It wasn't until Buffalo's sixth possession that Kolb appeared to be in rhythm. He connected on seven of eight passes on the drive for 48 yards, including conversions on a 3rd-and-9 and a 3rd-and-4. The 15-play drive was capped by a 39-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal.
"It took a little while for the game to come to me, but I'm happy with the way it finished," said Kolb. "I felt like I got in a little bit of a groove. We got in a little bit of a groove."
Kolb followed the previous scoring drive with another right at the end of the half as the offense made the most of the 38 seconds that remained on the clock. Armed with three timeouts, Kolb hit Marcus Easley for a 21-yard gain on a 2nd-and-10 play. Kolb then hit a wide open Robert Woods, who picked up 22 more yards to move the Bills down to the Minnesota 26.
A short completion to Tashard Choice led to a 3rd-and-1 at the Minnesota 17 with just nine seconds on the clock. Kolb however, could not find anyone open and quickly threw it away to preserve enough time on the clock for a 35-yard field goal by Hopkins as time expired. Buffalo took a 13-3 lead to the locker room after the seven-play scoring drive.
"When you have points on the board I wasn't going to force one in there," said Kolb. "The corner was dropping on me and the safety was converging on it. Just take three, throw it away and live to see another day."
All told Kolb finished his day 13-21 for 111 yards and an interception. Much like Manuel last week he improved as the half wore on completing 10 of his last 13 pass attempts for 83 of his passing yards.
Come the second half Buffalo's offense looked like it was shot out of a cannon. After a couple of short gains by Tashard Choice, new quarterback EJ Manuel his Easley on the right side for a 12-yard pickup.
After three rushes by Choice and one scramble by Manuel gained a total of 30 yards to move Buffalo to midfield, Zac Brown and Manuel combined for the remaining yardage.
Brown rushed for 18 yards on three carries, while Manuel hit Brown, Brad Smith and Chris Hogan in succession to set up a 3rd-and-1 at the Minnesota 27. Manuel converted that play with a quick slant to Hogan for an eight-yard gain.
"I think we just had a good drive, first and foremost the O-line did a great and fantastic job," Manuel said. "I didn't have any pressure pretty much the whole time I was out there. Obviously the receivers did a great job of getting open so we were able to move the ball right down the field."
Two more rushes by Brown moved the ball down to the four-yard line for a second-and-goal. Manuel dropped back did not see his first read open, but came back to his back side read to find Brad Smith wide open in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown catch (20-3).
"He was probably the fourth read, but you just go through your progressions one, two, three, four and he ended up being open and just threw him the ball," Manuel said.
It was an impressive 14-play, 80-yard drive, but the offense couldn't muster anything after that. Manuel's next two possessions went three-and-out and seven-and-out with Manuel's last play a sack on a 3rd-and-8. He finished 10-12 for 92 yards and a touchdown.
"I was hoping that we could come back again with that type of effort, we didn't, we stalled out a little bit, but again we won the game," said Marrone. "Still got a long way to go, we got a lot of things to work on, all of us: myself, the coaches and the players."
Minnesota closed to within four points after a pair of touchdown drives, but could get no closer as the Bills improved to 2-0 in the preseason.
Buffalo travels to the nation's capital next Saturday to face the Washington Redskins in their third preseason contest. Kickoff is set for 4:30 pm.
Game NotesTashard Choice was the game's leading rusher with 54 yards on 12 carries.
Chris Hogan was the team's leading receiver (4 rec., 34 yards) as he and Marcus Easley saw the most action in the first half with Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham sidelined.
Kevin Elliott left the game with an undisclosed lower body injury.
The Bills had 14 penalties Friday night up from their nine yellow flags last Sunday.