The Buffalo Bills hosted the Indianapolis Colts for their first of three preseason games on Saturday afternoon. Many of Buffalo's starters had the day off, so several rookies and younger players headlined the day.
The Bills got down early but were able to win it 27 to 24 with a walk off 46-yard field goal by kicker Tyler Bass. The victory over the Colts makes it nine preseason wins in a row for Buffalo.
Here are three things to know from Saturday's victory.
1. Bills offense finds a way to come out on top
Bills quarterback Case Keenum took the field as the starter for Buffalo's first preseason game, as QB Josh Allen — and many of the other team's starters did not play Saturday.
It was Keenum's first game as a Bill, which was the same for many others on offense. The group struggled to get things going early and committed four turnovers in the first half, but fortunately found a way to turn it around in the second half.
Keenum and the offense did a good job of moving the ball down the field during their first drive but couldn't capitalize in the red zone and came up short on 4th and 4. Running back Zack Moss picked up 39 yards on the ground and wide receiver Khalil Shakir accounted for 30 receiving yards during that drive.
Keenum said the turnovers, including two interceptions were uncharacteristic, but he's looking forward to learning from the tape.
"It is preseason so you need to take it with a grain of salt knowing that it's not quite as game planned of a call sheet that we normally have," Keenum shared. "I thought we did some good things and there's a lot of stuff to work on and get better at as well."
Bills quarterback Matt Barkley took over for Keenum in the third quarter. During his first drive, Barkley got into a nice rhythm with Shakir who picked up 46 yards from two catches. The drive ended in a 48-yard field goal by Tyler Bass, which cut the Colts' lead to six.
"I'll give him (Shakir) a lot of props," Barkley said. "He did a great job. He's just a reliable receiver who knows where to be. He's easy to read and just catches everything."
Shakir finished the day as the leading receiver by picking up 92 yards from five receptions.
Buffalo turned the ball over five total times, the last one being an interception by Barkley. After the fifth turnover the Bills had three-straight scoring drives to win the game after trailing 24-10 in the fourth. Rookie running back Raheem Blackshear played a big role in those three drives by scoring two rushing touchdowns. Blackshear finished the day with four catches for 60 yards and had 11 rushing yards.
"He gave us some juice," McDermott said of the rookie. "He was different when he came on the field."
The Bills offense took the field with 3:24 left to play with the score tied up at 24-24. The group orchestrated a 12-play, 45-yard drive that ended in a walk off 46-yard field goal from kicker Tyler Bass. Wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins picked up back-to-back first downs on the drive to help give the Bills a chance to score. Hodgins did not drop a pass on the final drive as he was targeted five times.
The WR has had a tough road back to the field as his first couple seasons were full of working his way back from injury. McDermott was happy to see him take advantage of the moment.
"That resilient nature that he has, he's a great human being," McDermott said. "His teammates love him. Great to see him work himself back in a position to make those plays, and for him to make those plays and come through for us was outstanding."
While McDermott wasn't pleased with the offense's sloppy start, he was excited to see the group work through adversity and turn it around by winning the game as time expired.
"Those guys were as excited as I've seen them in a regular season game in the same situation," McDermott shared. "The older guys watching these younger players come through in those situations, or a player like Isaiah Hodgins, that's why you do this. That's part of the reason we do this is to have fun and have guys rewarded for all their hard work.
"I also think at the end of the day the game is played with your heart. And it's fun to see that come out in professional sports where guys put it on the line. They want to win even in the exhibition game."
2. Bills defense shows out against Colts starters in first half
The Bills non-starters on defense got a great taste of competition in their first preseason game by going up against the Colts' starters in the first half. The defense got off to a hot start in the first two quarters by forcing two turnovers and allowing the Colts to convert only 22% of their third downs.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott said getting reps against that type of competition is important for player development.
"You try to do it in practice and you try to simulate things, but to get that experience, that exposure, you can't replicate it," McDermott said. "It was good work for us. I think we had one, maybe two sudden change situations with that group as well, going against that first offense from the Colts. Good situational experience for us."
"Coach (Leslie) Frazier always says if the ones are down, we don't want any drop off," safety Jaquan Johnson shared. "And I think we showed that today going against the Colts starters, getting all the communication and the checks well, playing aggressive, physical. We hit on all cylinders in the beginning, so it was perfect."
Rookie cornerbacks Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford each picked up a pass breakup in the first quarter. Elam broke a pass up on third down, which forced the Colts to punt. On another drive, Benford got in the way of wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. to break a pass up on a 4th and 4. It was impressive awareness by both rookies.
"I think early on Kaiir and Christian were out there and looked like, playing on opposite sides, they were holding their own out there and doing some good things," McDermott said. "Taking what they practiced to the game, which is good to see."
In the second quarter, Colts quarterback Nick Foles replaced starting quarterback Matt Ryan. During his first drive, Foles was sacked by defensive end Boogie Basham who also forced a fumble. Linebacker Terrel Bernard recovered the fumble and took it 69 yards to score.
Teammates like Johnson were happy to see the rookies have so much success in their first game.
"I told him it was an amazing debut from him," Johnson said. "These are moments you live for, moments you dreamed of your whole life. You work so hard for moments like this, and it happens. So, I told him, 'Awesome.' I love celebrating with my teammates the same way they celebrated with me."
3. Punters Matt Haack and Matt Araiza each get a chance to showcase their skills
Punters Matt Haack and Matt Araiza each got an opportunity to showcase their punting skills in Saturday's game.
Haack hit the field first and notched a 38-yard punt to put the Colts at their 12-yard line to start their drive.
The second and final punt of the game came in the second quarter. Araiza kicked an 82-yard bomb that traveled 78 yards in the air for a net yardage of 62 for a touchback.
Kicker Tyler Bass was impressed with what he saw from both of his punters.
"I thought each punter when they went out for punt, they had a certain job and a certain situation to handle, and they both handled it excellent," Bass shared. "Matt Haack did a good job pinning them deep, and Araiza did a great job of flipping the field. So, I think they both did a really good job for the first game."
Araiza also got the chance to hold for both of Bass' field goals, which included the game-winner from 46 yards out. The rookie said he was nervous to be the holder on a game winning opportunity but was more than happy with the outcome.
"That was awesome," Araiza said. "The first game holding, the game winner. Tyler is an awesome kicker, so I think he makes all of us look good. It's awesome to be holding for such a good kicker."
"I think he did great," Bass said of Araiza's holding. "I think him and I both agree, we still have growing to do. But I think for the first time getting out there, he handled himself really well. He was very calm, collected and I trust him 100%."