CANTON, Ohio – The Buffalo Bills’ backups made two turnovers deep in enemy territory and gave up a long touchdown pass to the New York Giants on Sunday night.
The key plays added up to a 17-13 Bills loss before a national television audience and a crowd of 22,005 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game.
There were some positive developments for the Bills.
Buffalo’s first-string defense played well in a cameo appearance. The special teams did some good things, getting a blocked punt and a 51-yard field goal.
But it was a typically nondescript exhibition opener for both clubs.
Bills coach Doug Marrone was focused afterward on the bottom line.
“Like I told the players, I put it in perspective this way: We had an opportunity to win a game and we didn’t,” Marrone said. “That’s the one thing we’ve got to do. We’ve got to win football games. So I’m glad we have five” preseason games. “I’m glad we have some time to get better.”
Coming off three straight 6-10 seasons, Marrone wasn’t much interested in reviewing some of the good plays made by his team.
“Make no mistake about it, when we go out there it doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s Player A or Player Z at the bottom of the roster,” Marrone said. “For me, we have to win as a team, no matter what we do.”
The Bills’ starters on offense and defense played only two series apiece.
Bills quarterback EJ Manuel played just 10 plays. He completed 2 of 7 passes for 19 yards. Three of his incompletions were bat-downs by the Giants near the line of scrimmage.
Asked about the bat-downs, Marrone said: “It’s a concern for the offensive linemen, not necessarily a concern for the quarterback.”
Bills first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins did not have a catch, although he was targeted three times.
Buffalo’s defense, which last year ranked 10th overall in the NFL but 28th against the run, forced New York to punt after three plays on the first drive of the game. On New York’s second drive, Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning and forced a fumble that set up a Bufalo field goal.
“I think those guys gave us an opportunity and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Marrone said of the starting defenders.
The game was tied, 10-10, at halftime.
The decisive score came early in the fourth quarter, when New York’s backup quarterback, Ryan Nassib, threw a 73-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to rookie receiver Corey Washington. Bills cornerback Michael Carter, who has had a rough training camp so far, was beaten on the play.
Second-year man Jeff Tuel served as the Bills’ No. 2 quarterback, playing the second quarter. He arguably did a little better than veteran backup Thad Lewis, who played the entire second half.
Tuel was 12 of 17 for 74 yards and led a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
However, Tuel threw an interception in the end zone on a play from the Giants’ 8-yard line with 20 seconds left in the first half.
Tuel’s slant pass for T.J. Graham wasn’t perfect, slightly behind, and Giants cornerback Zack Bowman had tight coverage. The ball caromed into the air, and Giants safety Cooper Taylor intercepted.
Lewis completed 10 of 16 passes for 87 yards. But he threw an interception early in the third quarter, after the Bills had marched 48 yards to the Giants’ 32. Lewis’ pass deep down the right sideline for Marcus Easley was well underthrown, and Bowman intercepted in the end zone for a touchback.
The Bills’ TD was scored by Robert Woods on a 2-yard pass from Tuel. Dan Carpenter booted 30- and 51-yard field goals.
Manning, the two-time Super Bowl winner, played the entire first quarter and led three Giants drives. His third possession, with the New York starters going against the Bills’ second-string defense, was an 80-yard touchdown march. New York got 62 of those yards on the ground.
That one drive was the only poor stretch of run defense for the Bills.
New York got a 21-yard run to get near the goal line and scored on a 3-yard run by rookie Andre Williams.
“I think overall they were 3.4 yards per play in the rushing game,” Marrone said.
(Actually, the Giants averaged only 3.2 yards on 38 runs.)
“The only thing I was disappointed with is we had the second goal line in and they ran it in from the 3,” Marrone said.
New York also got a 47-yard field goal from rookie kicker Brandon McManus.
The Giants were 7-9 last season. They have missed the playoffs two straight years since winning the Super Bowl in the 2011 season. However, it was just the second losing season in 10 years for Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
New York is trying to retool an offense that ranked 28th last year in both points scored and yards gained. New York added two new running backs, signing former Jaguar Rashad Jennings in free agency and drafting Boston College’s Andre Williams.