The preseason is off and running as the Bills took on the Colts Saturday afternoon from Highmark Stadium and came away with a 23-19 win.
Buffalo trailed 13-10 at one point in the second half but rallied to start preseason off on the right note.
Here are the top three things we learned from Bills vs. Colts:
Barkley, Patmon and Shavers shine in second half performance
QB Matt Barkley had an excellent outing to begin preseason as he completed 14 of 15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Barkley entered the game following the first series of the second half, replacing Kyle Allen.
Kyle Allen had just thrown a pick six on the previous drive which gave the Colts a 13-10 lead over Buffalo.
Barkley marched right down the field, going 6 of 7 passing for 75 yards and lofting a 22-yard pass to rookie WR Tyrell Shavers who got open on the left side. The Bills took a 17-13 lead and remained in control the rest of the game.
"I just didn't want to overthrow him on that touchdown," Barkley explained, "so I just kind of laid it up there for him knowing that he had a ton of space after getting a nice little pick on the edge."
Shavers, playing in his first NFL preseason game, said he focused on not letting his nerves get the best of him and prioritized staying in the moment on each play.
"I lined up in a slot to the left and saw man coverage and I knew that linebacker on me — it was a mismatch — so I knew that the ball was coming my way and I tried to make the catch," Shavers said of his score.
The 6-foot-4 receiver has been a consistent performer throughout training camp; he continued to display those skills with two catches for 38 yards on Saturday.
Josh Allen did not play in the Bills preseason opener but he still found a way to contribute to the win. During portions of the second half, Allen called a few of his own plays and relayed them to Barkley via the headset on the sideline.
Naturally, Allen dialed up a play that resulted in Barkley's second touchdown throw of the afternoon, this one going for 13 yards to WR Dezmon Patmon to put Buffalo up 23-13.
"We had talked about it on the sideline and I'm like when we're in good field position, on a good third down, let's get it called. And (Josh Allen) called it," Barkley shared.
Barkley added he isn't sure how many total plays Allen called during the second half and he made sure to let everyone know that it was still the 11 guys on the field making the play happen.
"Dorsey was still in my ear the whole time but I think Josh was relaying them up. I don't know, I don't want to give him too much credit here," he joked.
Patmon, a former Indianapolis Colt (2020-22), said in the locker room after the game that it was a great feeling to score against his former team.
"As soon as they called it I knew it was a touchdown," Patmon said. "The way the corner was — like the leverage he had — I was like, 'Alright, this is a touchdown'."
Even with the win, Bills head coach Sean McDermott said something he's looking for going forward is more consistency from the offense in terms of moving the ball downfield.
"I thought there were moments also where we did some good things. I liked how we ended the game on offense in the four-minute drive. So I thought, again, flashes, moments, just not consistent enough," he said.
Bills 'aggressive' D gets after the QB
Whether it was Anthony Richardson, Gardner Minshew or Sam Ehlinger under center for the Colts, the Bills defense still found a way to generate pressure on the quarterback. Buffalo had three sacks, six QB hits and nearly a forced fumble.
"We want to play aggressive, we don't want to just be back you know sitting on our heels," said DE Boogie Basham who recorded a sack.
The Bills defense made a big play right out of the gate as CB Dane Jackson intercepted rookie QB Anthony Richardson and ran back 20 yards to set Buffalo's offense up at the Indy 13-yard line.
"It felt real good," Jackson said. "I was able to just end with a good play."
Jackson started the game as the team's second corner across from Tre'Davious White and played only the first series before Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford rotated in.
"Dane made a nice play and took the ball away," McDermott said. "Trying to get a good, long look at Christian and Kaiir today."
Later in the game, the Bills pash rush was able to create more disruptive plays as Tim Settle and Basham sacked Minshew on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. In the third quarter, DE Kameron Cline and DT DJ Dale both burst through the line and combined for a sack of Ehlinger. However, Dale was injured on the play and had to leave the game due to ribs/back contusion. McDermott said Dale will get a CT scan to find out more on the injury.
The Colts scored in the fourth quarter to make it 23-19 but LB Travin Howard made an open-field tackle to keep it a four-point game with 4:13 remaining.
"That was a big play," McDermott said. "You talk about guys that you can feel their presence out there, and he's done that since spring, and also in camp to this point."
One-two punch at RB
Running backs James Cook and Latavius Murray saw a lot of action in the first half, helping Buffalo jump out to a 10-0 lead. Both players carried over their momentum from training camp and translated it onto the field.
After Jackson's INT, Cook got the ball for a 5-yard carry and then bounced it outside a play later for an 8-yard TD using his speed. Cook was in for the Bills second series as well, finishing the day with 4 carries for 20 yards.
With Damien Harris sidelined with knee soreness, Murray saw plenty of action taking five carries for 18 yards then grabbing three passes for 21 yards. The 11-year veteran had the most receptions on the team in the first half.
"He runs the hell out of the ball, too," Kyle Allen said. "It was fun to be able to hand them off and see him run into full speed, full contact and run dudes over. I was really impressed with him and he's just been awesome."
Check out the best photos from the preseason opener at Highmark Stadium. This gallery is presented by Gabe's Collision.