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Bills 24, Bears 21: Three things we learned

Some final preseason notes from the Bills’ solid showing in the Windy City

NFL: Preseason-Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills wrapped up their 2023 preseason with a 24-21 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Saturday.

Buffalo’s first team offense played one series, with quarterback Josh Allen (5-of-7, 49 yards) engineering a 12-play, 72-yard drive capped off by a two-yard scoring run from running back Damien Harris. It was a pretty crisp and concise series by the starters, and having ended the drive with a score, Allen and some other select starters quickly departed the game.

The Bills’ first team defense also played well, with the Bears — featuring their starters, including quarterback Justin Fields — going three-and-out on their first two series of the game. It’s with the starting defense that we’ll start our final post-game observations of the exhibition season.

The final shape of MLB, CB2 battles

As far as outstanding position battles go, arguably the two most significant are at middle linebacker and boundary cornerback — and Saturday’s starting lineups were our final clues as to how the Bills may open the season at those spots.

Tyrel Dodson saw the initial snaps at linebacker next to Matt Milano, with A.J. Klein and Baylon Spector relieving him once the starters left the field. This was a somewhat expected pecking order with Tyrel Dodson and Dorian Williams out of the lineup, and Spector’s hamstring injury early in the third quarter adds his name to a growing list of dinged-up linebackers.

With Bernard — who general manager Brandon Beane said is close to returning to action during the in-game broadcast — Williams, and now Spector all sidelined, it seems extremely likely that Dodson will be Buffalo’s Week 1 starting Mike linebacker. Where it goes from there remains to be seen, but this is a one-week-at-a-time league.

At cornerback, second-year pro Christian Benford ran with the top defense, with Dane Jackson coming in behind him, and Kaiir Elam bringing up the rear. The Bills’ defensive coaching staff has proven in years past that they have no issue rotating cornerbacks, and the coaches seem fairly comfortable at this point with their cornerback room in its entirety, so it’s a strong bet that that will continue. But if we’re looking for a pecking order of sorts, Benford’s name seems to be on the ascent.

Looking elsewhere for QB2?

With Matt Barkley sidelined since the second half of the team’s last preseason game, Kyle Allen had the entire game to himself in Chicago — minus that first drive — and had his moments. He completed 18-of-34 passes for 162 yards with a touchdown (to tight end Quintin Morris), an ugly interception, and an overall quarterback rating of 63.6. Despite some solid throws, he didn’t exactly make the most of the opportunity presented to him, and the QB2 spot remains an enigma.

The Bills were reportedly one of the handful of teams in talks with the San Francisco 49ers about potentially trading for third-year quarterback Trey Lance, which could indicate an overall discomfort with their quarterback depth chart behind Josh Allen. With Kyle Allen’s play this summer leaving a lot to be desired, and with Barkley injured, it would not be terribly surprising if the Bills ended up looking outside of their own building for their backup quarterback over the next several days.

Bring on the New York Jets

Buffalo has had an interesting offseason and summer. They remain very strong contenders in the brutally difficult AFC (East), and are strong bets to continue their run of postseason appearances if things go according to plan. But there’s also been some tumult and turbulence, some pretty significant changes in the coaching ranks and with player personnel, and the pressure is very much on for the team to realize its Super Bowl potential.

And now that the preseason is over, all of that talk comes to an end, and the games count again. That’s the beauty of real, honest-to-goodness football being just around the corner: the hype, the drama, whatever fluffy story lines have been dominating the down time all go out the window.

Things get real again, and in a hurry. Buffalo has an extremely difficult Week 1 task ahead of them as they try to reach their goals, heading to New Jersey to take on a Jets outfit headlined by its stingy defense and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Who else can’t wait?