Football is back! The Buffalo Bills opened up their preseason hosting the Indianapolis Colts. Coaching philosophy differences were easy to see right out of the gate as Sean McDermott rested the Bills’ starters while Frank Reich played many of the Colts’ starters into the second quarter.
Buffalo received the opening kickoff and promptly trotted out the backups including an offensive line of Tommy Doyle, Greg Van Roten, Bobby Hart, Luke Tenuta, and Cody Ford. Khalil Shakir opened up in a big way with a long catch and run all the way to the 50, followed by another catch with good effort to get another first down just a couple plays later. Zack Moss showed up on the drive but a couple misses in the end zone ended the Bills drive on downs. Case Keenum’s last-ditch pass to O.J. Howard was a bit high.
The rookie corners showed up early and often with Kaiir Elam breaking up a third-down pass to end the Colts’ first drive. Even more impressive is the fact that the Colts were primarily playing starters.
The Bills put Shakir out to return the first punt, which also was the Bills’ first penalty of the year with Terrel Bernard called for offensive holding during the return. Keenum rocketed a pass to Jamison Crowder, which caromed off Crowder and into the hands of the Colts for the first of several turnovers for Buffalo.
Buffalo’s defense shined again, making the Colts settle for a field goal. An incredible goal line stop on third down was followed by a false start by Indy. Jaquan Johnson returned the kickoff to midfield, but Buffalo’s drive stalled in a run, run, pass situation that was reminiscent of the drought era teams. Matt Haack was called out to punt first, pinning the Colts at the 12 with a 38 yarder.
The Colts started off strong but the Bills’ rookies and depth players were stronger on the next drive. Cam Lewis had a highlight-reel tackle for a loss coming in for a corner blitz, changing fluidly to run support. Lewis then provided the coverage for an incomplete pass. Indianapolis went for it on fourth, but Matt Ryan’s pass was broken up by Christian Benford.
Keenum’s bad day continued with a tipped pass. That was followed by a spectacular throw and catch to Jake Kumerow who coughed it up to end the first quarter.
The Colts kept their starters in for the first drive in the second quarter after the Kumerow fumble. The Colts turned the ball over on downs with a drive that featured some sloppy penalties and a nice sack by Prince Emili.
Buffalo’s next drive ended with a fumble from Keenum who was hit right before he could visibly push the ball forward and create a case for an incomplete pass. While the Colts recovered, a sack and forced fumble by Boogie Basham led to a Terrel Bernard recovery. This is also incidentally the first touchdown of the year, with Bernard having a 69-yard scoop and score.
A bad overthrow by Nick Foles led to a Jaquan Johnson interception, who brought it all the way back to the Colts’ 15. Case Keenum gave it right back on the next pass. Things got a little chippy with a group scuffle on the sidelines.
The defense had an up and down next drive, with Elam earning the first defensive pass interference of his career. Two plays with tight coverage by Elam forced a 4th & 8. Terrel Bernard trailed in coverage as the Colts went for it on fourth down again. The blown coverage and a minor injury to Kaiir Elam led to a walk-in touchdown for the Colts. Elam was evaluated for a head injury, but cleared later in the game. Buffalo did not bring him back onto the field though.
Duke Johnson was the next returner and was highlighted on offense to start the drive. Johnson didn’t deliver and the Bills went three-and-out. The play of the drive came from Matt Araiza who punted from the shadow of his own end zone. The 82-yard punt and touchback was received with a fair amount of applause from the crowd.
The Bills held up as the half was ending with a tackle for a loss and batted pass. McDermott called a timeout with 36 seconds left on the clock, with Khalil Shakir returning the punt to start an aggressive Bills drive. An incomplete to Tommy Sweeney burned time the Bills didn’t have and some sloppy penalties by both teams were followed by a Keenum sack to close the half.
Coming out of the half, the Colts started with the ball and Sam Ehlinger in at QB. A 17-yard sack was wiped out by an illegal low block by Joe Giles-Harris. Baylon Spector had a fantastic bat coming in on a blitz. Buffalo brought good pressure on the drive, but the Colts found the end zone anyway.
It was Raheem Blackshear’s turn to return the kickoff, leading to Matt Barkley time. Two chunk play passes to Shakir were part of a promising drive that led to a 48-yard field goal. As an aside, Matt Araiza was the holder for extra points and field goals for the entire game, which was the big question for the rookie punter.
The third quarter closed with more up and down from the defense. Sam Ehlinger had a couple scrambles to keep the chains moving, but was also taken down for a major loss by Kingsley Jonathan and Andre Smith Jr., the latter of which will get the credit for the sack. The Colts held the ball for a couple minutes into the fourth quarter, but Daniel Joseph ended the drive with another sack.
Duke Johnson came out for a punt return, but had to call for a fair catch. Pressure led to a Matt Barkley interception, the fifth turnover for Buffalo. The Colts made their touchdown a bit more dramatic with a penalty calling back their first trip into the end zone. A few plays later they got the score anyway, capping it off with a two-point conversion.
Matt Barkley and the Bills finally got going, finding the end zone on a goal line run by Raheem Blackshear. The drive included a phenomenal sideline pass to Isaiah Hodgins. Buffalo also elected to go for two, but Barkley was picked off in the back corner of the end zone by Dallis Flowers.
Trailing by eight, the Bills’ defense quickly forced a punt, with Blackshear returning again. On third down, a fantastic throw from Barkley to Quintin Morris kept the drive alive and a facemask call on the Colts put the ball at the 11. Another rushing touchdown from Blackshear had the celebration cut short as Blackshear stayed down after the score. The rookie walked off under his own power and returned to the game for the final drive. Duke Johnson converted the two-point attempt to tie the game with just under four minutes to play.
Buffalo forced a three-and-out, to raucous preseason applause and Duke Johnson was the return man on the punt. A great Barkley pass to Isaiah Hodgins in tight coverage and another pass to Hodgins saw him squeak forward for another two first downs in a row.
Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey switched to situational football, with methodical plays keeping the ball moving toward field goal range. Neil Pau’u came down with a nice catch toward the end of regulation. An illegal touch by Tanner Gentry was a black mark on the drive, but kept the Bills in field goal range. Barkley and Hodgins got the team a little closer for Tyler Bass.
As time expired, Matt Araiza cleanly brought the ball down from Reid Ferguson’s snap and Tyler Bass nailed a 46-yard field goal right down the middle.
- Buffalo has a knack for either finding or coaching defensive backs as the rookies played very well. Cynthia Frelund reported three NFL executives were inquiring about Christian Benford becoming available before the game was over.
- A couple injury close calls aren’t ideal, but it’s also not that shabby. Hopefully we continue to see good health.
- The Case Keenum offense was shaky. Some of it was Keenum. Some of it was the supporting cast. Some of it was playing the Colts’ starters. Matt Barkley looked better, but there’s an argument that the quality of competition dived when he came in.
- It’s preseason and Jonathan Taylor wasn’t playing, but the run defense looked good.