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Buffalo Bills fans got a look at what life will be like without Stephon Gilmore on Thursday night.

They couldn’t be blamed if they shielded their eyes from the horror.

The Bills’ patchwork secondary turned in a ghastly performance in a 35-13 loss to the Detroit Lions in the preseason finale at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The very first play of the game showed it was going to be a long night for the Bills’ cornerbacks. Detroit receiver Patrick Edwards blew by Buffalo cornerback T.J. Heath down the left sideline, but quarterback Matthew Stafford overthrew him.

The same scenario played itself out on the Lions’ next possession before second-stringer Shaun Hill and Edwards connected for an 8-yard touchdown. Edwards got the ball at the line and worked his way around Heath to the end zone.

“Started off a little rocky,” Heath said of his night. “I had to get into the game, but I think once the game got going, we started progressing a little bit. In this league, though, you can’t have an on and off switch. You’ve got to come out on. We could have done a lot better as a group, but we’re going to continue to get better. We’re going to watch this film and keep moving on.”

The Bills rested Leodis McKelvin and also did not play Justin Rogers – a sign he has a good chance to start in Gilmore’s absence, which could be another 5 to 7 weeks. That meant Heath and Crezdon Butler were the outside corners.

“We wanted to make sure we knew where those other two players were,” coach Doug Marrone said. “I think we have to do a better job in press. We’ve got to be up there and contend more of those passes that they’re winning. We’ve got to put them in a position that they can get the job done.”

With Gilmore injured, the Bills will likely carry at least six cornerbacks when final cuts are made Saturday.

“I think that we do have a lot of tape now with them out there,” Marrone said of Butler and Heath. “We’ll be able to look at that. Obviously we wanted to look at both of those players to make a decision … on where both of them were at.”

Heath said he should have known that the Lions would target him to start the game. He also regretted not being more physical at the line at the start of the game.

“Throughout the game I got more hands on them,” he said. “I started feeling my game coming back a little bit. As a corner, I want them to throw at me so I can make plays, but at the same time, you know, you’ve got to make plays on those balls. They got a few in today.”

Butler wasn’t spared from the struggles Thursday. He was beat for a 6-yard touchdown by Kris Durham, and also gave up a completion to Matt Willis that went for 39 yards.

“My technique on some plays wasn’t that good and it resulted in some plays being made on me,” Butler said. “You’ve got to have a short-term memory at cornerback.”

If it weren’t for some early drops by Detroit receivers, the numbers would have looked even worse for the Bills’ secondary. The combined effort did little to waylay fears that the defensive backfield could be in a world of trouble without Gilmore starting Sept. 8 when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots visit.

“If a guy goes down you’ve got to step up. That’s a big thing for us – we’ve got to step up and make the plays that he was making,” Butler said. “Don’t try to do too much, just do your job. I mean, it’s a challenge. It’s different. You’ve never been in that starting role, but it’s next guy up. You’ve got to prove you’re supposed to be in this league. It’s that time.”

email: jskurski@buffnews.com