What looked like an early blowout for the Lions up 28-7 in the first half turned into a barnburner with Buffalo erasing the 21-point deficit to take the lead early in the fourth quarter on a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, but the Lions put the last points on the board in a 38-32 victory for Detroit leaving the Bills winless in the preseason.
"Well we gave up two touchdowns there early in the ball game and fought back," said head coach Chan Gailey. "I was impressed with a lot of things that happened. The defense stiffened a couple of times, not quite enough, but a couple of times. The biggest problem were the penalties on defense and giving up some big plays on third down. And then offensively Tyler (Thigpen) had his hand hit twice for interceptions. We can't have that kind of penetration in there on those situations."
The big positive to start the game was Buffalo's starting offense got the drive they were looking for to close out the preseason. Ryan Fitzpatrick was a perfect 5-5 passing for 39 yards through the air including a four-yard fade pass to Stevie Johnson in the back left corner of the end zone and C.J. Spiller rushed six times for 29 yards.
"We wanted to start fast and put some points on the board," said Fitzpatrick. "It was good to get into the end zone and spread the ball around a little bit and let everyone touch it."
"We came out and looked pretty good," said Stevie Johnson. "Donald had a few catches. The line blocked good. C.J. produced some big runs and everything was going smooth. We were clicking. We just have to make sure that rolls over into next week."
The 11-play 83-yard drive took more than six and a half minutes off the clock staking the Bills to an early 7-0 lead.
"It made us feel good," said head coach Chan Gailey. "Executed all the way down the field. We challenged them to go execute on one drive and they did it."
The first team defense wasn't as successful. After a missed tackle in the flat led to a 33-yard pass play for the Lions and moved the ball into Buffalo territory, a 15-yard facemask penalty pushed the ball to the Bills 24-yard line. Two plays later Matthew Stafford hit Calvin Johnson in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard scoring strike to tie the score (7-7).
"We let two long plays out of there, again, defensively," said Gailey. "Two long plays on third down. We have to avoid those."
On the ensuing kick return Brad Smith was stripped of the football at the Buffalo 20-yard line and returned by the Lions to the Bills nine. It led to another quick score with Mikel LeShoure plunging in from two yards out for Detroit's second touchdown (14-7).
After a three-and-out by Buffalo's second team offense, Detroit was the beneficiary of great field position off a 30-yard return by Patrick Edwards to the Bills 40-yard line. The Lions' second unit got a big play with Shaun Hill hitting Ryan Broyles for a 26-yard pass play to set up first-and-goal at the four. Hill would then sneak it in on 4th-and-goal for a one-yard touchdown and a 21-7 edge with a minute left in the opening quarter.
"We were really short-handed," said Gailey with only three cornerbacks for the last three and a half quarters of the game. "We couldn't play any of our nickel stuff. I felt sorry for Dave (Wannstedt) because he couldn't play any nickel hardly. He's trying to match up on their three wides with linebackers and that gets really hard."
Tyler Thigpen in trying to make a final case for a roster spot on the next series tossed a pass to the left flat that was intended for Derek Hagan. Lions cornerback Jonte' Green slipped inside of Hagan and took the interception 23 yards the other way for a touchdown before the first quarter expired (28-7). Gailey indicated Thigpen's arm was hit on the throw.
"It was a shame Tyler (Thigpen) had his hand hit on that one pass," said Gailey. "Really he did not play bad other than that mistake. He played pretty well."
Thigpen got into a rhythm in the second half leading a pair of touchdown drives capping one of them with a four-yard touchdown pass to Dorin Dickerson late in the third quarter to pull Buffalo to within four (28-24).
Jason Hanson would push the lead back to 31-24 for the Lions on a 39-yard field goal to cap a nine-play 65-yard drive with 14 minutes left in the game.
But the Bills had a response in the form of a 100-yard kick return by Marcus Easley, who was given a cavernous hole and eluded the kicker Hanson to go the length of
the field to pull the Bills to within one (31-30). Buffalo then went for two with Thigpen hitting Marcus Easley on a quick slant to give the Bills a one-point edge with three minutes left in the third quarter.
Lions' third-string quarterback Kellen Moore would orchestrate an eight-play 80-yard drive and run a one-yard sneak in off a ball fake to regain the lead for Detroit 38-32 with 10 minutes to play.
Buffalo threatened late as Tarvaris Jackson was handed great field position for his first series midway through the fourth quarter, but his 4th-and-3 pass to the right sideline for Naaman Roosevelt was intercepted by Amari Spievey and the Lions.
The Bills got the ball back with 1:45 left with Thigpen leading a two-minute drive, but his arm was hit on a 2nd-and-4 pass from the Lions' 24-yard line and the lofted pass was picked off by Justin Miller with 10 seconds left in the game.
Detroit took a knee to end the game.
The Bills finished the 2012 preseason without a victory. It's the first time in 10 seasons that Buffalo did not post a preseason win.
Buffalo must now reduce their roster from 75 to the required 53 by 9 pm on Friday.