PITTSBURGH – The Buffalo Bills had been lucky with injuries this summer.
Then they lost a prominent player in Saturday night’s 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Rookie receiver Sammy Watkins hurt his left ribs on the eighth play and left the game for good.
The Bills announced after the game Watkins had bruised ribs. No timetable for his return was given.
On a third-and-3 play, Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen got his hand in Watkins’ facemask and was penalized. But the injury appeared to happen after EJ Manuel’s pass fell incomplete.
Steelers defenders went to tackle Watkins and partially wrapped him up before letting him go. Watkins’ torso twisted. He quickly grabbed his side and then bent over at the waist in pain.
The fourth overall draft choice had trouble walking off the field, was examined on the sideline and then went to the locker room for a more thorough evaluation.
For the second straight exhibition, Thad Lewis replaced Manuel at quarterback.
Bills coach Doug Marrone has said he is rotating his backup quarterbacks throughout the preseason. The competition between Lewis and Jeff Tuel still is considered open.
Lewis completed one of six passes for 18 yards and an interception. Tuel completed 5-of-9 throws and fumbled to set up the Steelers’ game-winning field goal as time expired.
After the game, Marrone was asked if he was satisfied with his backup quarterback play.
Marrone replied, “No,” but did not elaborate.
Defensive tackle Alan Branch remains in the Bills’ doghouse.
Branch was one of the Bills’ top free-agent acquisitions last year and signed an extension after the season. But he didn’t attend voluntary offseason workouts and failed his conditioning test when he reported for training camp.
He didn’t enter Saturday night’s game until well into the fourth quarter and played alongside third- and fourth-stringers.
“I was pretty surprised,” Branch said of having to wait so long to play. “But that’s a coach’s decision.”
The Bills aren’t worried about wearing out 33-year-old running back Fred Jackson. He had a game-high 13 touches in the first half.
Jackson led the Bills with six rushing attempts for 27 yards and had a game-high seven receptions for 28 yards.
C.J. Spiller had six carries for 16 yards, but no catches.
Eight Bills did not dress Saturday night: receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), offensive linemen Cordy Glenn (illness) and Chris Williams (back), linebacker Ty Powell (medical), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (hip), safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) and kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin).
The Bills are envious of the Steelers, who on Friday broke training camp at St. Vincent College.
The Bills are off today but still have one more week of camp left. The Bills have four more open practices and then a Friday walkthrough before they can pack up their things and leave St. John Fisher College.