The first quarter was rather ho-hum for EJ Manuel in his NFL debut for the Bills against the Colts in Indianapolis Sunday. Come the second quarter that all changed as Manuel settled in and executed with consistency as the Bills turned an early deficit into a rout in a 44-20 victory for Doug Marrone in his head coaching debut.
"I was very proud of our team with the way we came out there," said Marrone. "There was a lot of good enthusiasm before the game. This was our first time as coaches being together out on the field. I really liked the way we communicated during the course of the game with the trainers and everyone and the players. Obviously there is still a lot of work to do for us."
Early on there was an aborted play that led to a lost fumble early, as Manuel went 3-5 passing for 25 yards on the first two drives, the second of which resulted in a field goal. Early on his timing was slightly off with his receivers on a couple of throws, but by the end of the half he capped his first half of work with a touchdown drive.
"I just think I got more of a feel for the game, the flow of the game and things like that," said Manuel. "The line did a great job, C.J. did an awesome job, especially early on those guys did a great job helping me get more into the game."
Buffalo was down 10-3 after one quarter of play, with Dustin Hopkins 24-yard field goal the only points for the Bills to that point.
Manuel went 12-14 passing in the second quarter with a touchdown. After a three-and-out on Buffalo's initial possession in the second quarter, the Bills got the ball back two plays later when Crezdon Butler intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass that was tipped at the line by Manny Lawson at the Indianapolis 27.
Three plays after converting a 3rd-and-3 on a well-timed slant pass to Chris Hogan, Manuel and the offense were facing a 3rd-and-2 at the Colts five-yard line. Manuel rolled right, but with no open targets and a linebacker closing on him, the rookie signal caller wisely threw the ball away and took a 23-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal to pull Buffalo within four (10-6).
After the Colts responded with a field goal drive of their own, Marques Goodwin had the most impressive play of the day as he took a kickoff from seven yards deep in the end zone the distance outracing Colts coverage players 107 yards for a touchdown and a 13-10 Bills edge with just under eight minutes left in the half.
"I give all the credit to the guys that were blocking for me really," said Goodwin. "I have the easiest job on the field just catching it and running fast and do what I do best. They blocked it really well. I followed behind Frank Summers and he took the end out and I cut off his butt and cut up the field and cut across the field and ran for my life."
Buffalo's defense stopped the Colts second team offense just shy of the two-minute warning at the Indianapolis 41.
Colts punter Pat McAfee did a very good job of pinning the Bills deep in their own territory at their own eight-yard line with 1:50 remaining. Buffalo had all of their timeouts at their disposal.
Manuel led the drive with a short out throw to Robert Woods on the left side for a five-yard gain. None of his next five passes went for more than eight yards, but they were all complete and kept moving the chains.
"Obviously this last two-minute drive was a heck of a job by everybody," said Marrone. "The quarterback did a nice job and the other players did a nice job stopping the clock for us."
After a defensive holding call set up a 1st-and-10 at the Indianapolis 30 with 29 seconds remaining in the half, Manuel found Woods again for a 12-yard pickup over the middle. A short pass to Tashard Choice out of the backfield gained another yard with Choice able to stop the clock by getting out of bounds.
With 19 seconds left in the half Manuel hit Dorin Dickerson down the seam with a well-timed throw for a 17-yard touchdown pass to put the Bills up 19-13. Hopkins' extra point made it 20-13.
Manuel went 9-9 for 68 yards on the drive and also had one carry for four yards that converted a 2nd-and-2 play.
"The two minute drill was impressive," said Marrone. "We're on the minus eight(-yard line) and we've got three timeouts and a minute 50 left. To do that it's very impressive no matter who you are so I was excited about that."
Fellow rookie signal caller Jeff Tuel came on in the second half and orchestrated a touchdown drive of his own to start the third quarter. Tuel effectively marched Buffalo 72 yards on 11 plays and much like he's done in training camp practices was effective throwing deep.
He converted a 3rd-and-12 with a 29-yard completion down the right sideline to Marcus Easley to move into Indianapolis territory. Seven plays later Tuel fired a quick slant to Da'Rick Rogers on the left side of the formation after he separated quickly from his defender for a six-yard touchdown reception (27-13).
On the next possession Tuel led the offense on another 11-play drive, which ultimately stalled when a bad shotgun snap had to be covered up on a 3rd-and-2 at the Colts 11-yard line. Rian Lindell put a 30-yard attempt through to make it 30-13.
Tuel added a late touchdown pass to Brandon Kaufman on another long scoring drive (12 plays, 65 yards) and finished the day 19-23 passing for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
The defense got a pair of first half turnovers, the first on a forced fumble by Ron Brooks with Da'Norris Searcy recovering the loose ball. Butler's interception led to a Bills field goal.
"The defense was doing great," said DE/OLB Jamie Blatnick. "We were taking the ball away, flying around, moving fast, giving them different looks. We kept them kinda guessing where we were coming from. It worked out great. A lot of players showed up."
The only big play surrendered by Buffalo's defense was a 45-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to T.Y. Hilton, who made a diving catch to score and stake the Colts to an early 10-3 lead.
After that the Bills outscored Indianapolis 41-10 the rest of the way, with the Colts only other points coming on a sack fumble return of 72 yards by Daxton Swanson for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Tuel was sacked as he was trying to deliver the football by Caesar Rayford.
Undrafted rookie cornerback Jumal Rolle had a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown with five minutes left in the game to cap the scoring.
"Coach told us to have good leverage on the ball and we'll make plays from there," said Rolle. "Depending on the down and distance I played off that play and I was able to jump the route, and I was able to make a good play."
Buffalo's next preseason game is Friday when the Bills host the Minnesota Vikings at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 pm.