The Buffalo Bills dropped their preseason opener, 17-10 to the Minnesota Vikings Thursday night at New Era Field, and the main story is the Bills managed to avoid any major injuries in the team’s first action of 2017.
The Bills did dodge a bullet early on, when quarterback Tyrod Taylor, in a make-or-break year, went down after being harassed on a second-and-20 play on Buffalo’s first possession. Taylor was slow to get up after being sacked by Everson Griffen, but while Taylor appeared to tweak his knee on the play, he returned to action and guided the first-team offense for the first three possessions.
For fans who wanted to see Taylor adhere to offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s quick-strike attack, the first three plays saw Taylor hook up with wide receiver Sammy Watkins for three completions on short pass plays. After starting the game 3-for-3, he only completed two of his last five passes and finished with 46 passing yards.
After the defense, which looked stout taking on Minnesota’s first teamers (surrendering one first down and 18 total yards of offense on a pair of possessions), Taylor directed a seven-play, 37-yard scoring drive, culminating in Stephen Hauschka’s 42-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
The Bills best offensive playmaker, running back LeSean McCoy, did not see action despite dressing for the contest. Jonathan Williams and Mike Tolbert handled the bulk of the rushing duties. Williams finished with 39 yards on four carries (9.8 yards per run) with a nifty 17-yard scamper, while Tolbert added 27 rushing yards on four carries (6.8 yards/run) with a bruising 15-yard rush. A year after leading the league in rushing yards per game (164.4), Buffalo picked up where it left off, rushing for 127 yards on 24 carries (5.3 yards/run), and Williams and Tolbert showed they are more than capable of handling the rushing duties should McCoy suffer another injury. Williams did suffer what he calls a “very minor” hamstring injury but didn’t appear overly concerned about the issue.
Rookie undrafted defensive end Eddie Yarbrough continued to build on his solid showing in training camp, consistently beating his man and getting into the backfield. Yarbrough came up with a sack and applied consistent pressure on Vikings’ quarterback Sam Bradford. On a key third-and-seven on Minnesota’s first possession, Yarbrough exploded through the offensive line and brought down Bradford for a loss of six yards. He was credited with three tackles (two solo) and a pair of quarterback hits, and if he continues to improve, Yarbrough could provide Buffalo with another quality pass-rusher.
Buffalo finished with three sacks and five quarterback hits in the debut.
While Marcell Dareus did not make a tackle, Jerry Hughes burst through the line and sacked Bradford on the first play of Minnesota’s second possession. Rookie safety Trae Elston led the defense with six tackles (five solo), while second-year linebacker Reggie Ragland was also in on six stops (four solo). Rookie defensive end Marquavius Lewis added four tackles (all solo) with a sack, while fellow end Ian Seau and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy helped disrupt the Minnesota offense.
Once the first-teamers were off the field, veteran T.J. Yates, who has seen the training camp repetitions with the second-string offense, took over and struggled to find a rhythm. He finished the evening 6-for-11 with 48 yards while taking a pair of sacks. His drives produced only three first downs and zero points.
Rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman took over late in the third and saw the remainder of action at quarterback. The University of Pittsburgh product made up for a lackluster training camp by immediately orchestrating Buffalo’s only touchdown drive, a 13-play, 79-yard march that pulled the Bills to within 17-10 five minutes into the fourth quarter. On the drive, Peterman completed a series of quick and precise passes, starting off with a well-placed 13-yard toss to tight end Logan Thomas. He finished his debut completing 13 of 25 passes for 112 yards and a one-yard touchdown pass on a fade pattern to Dezmin Lewis. Peterman displayed poise and confidence under center, even if he misfired on a few passes. More impressive than the scoring drive were the two runs by Peterman, who converted a third-and-seven with a seven-yard scramble, then stepped up in the pocked and picked up 15 yards on the ensuing play. Could Peterman have surpassed Yates as the primary backup to Taylor?
While the 10 penalties are a bit concerning, many of the infractions were committed by players battling for roster spots who won’t be with the team when Buffalo opens the season hosting the New York Jets on Sept. 10.
Buffalo is off Friday and Saturday before returning to action with a 2:15 p.m. practice Sunday at St. John Fisher College.