Washington, Rudock stand out as Lions beat Bills
Detroit — Matthew Stafford didn’t play. Darius Slay? Nope. Ezekiel Ansah? Not a chance. The young offensive line still building chemistry? Not even they could be bothered.
But while the majority of the Detroit Lions’ starters stayed glued to the bench, a number of the team’s backups shined in the exhibition finale, a 31-0 whitewashing of the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field.
"They did a great job," Buffalo coach Rex Ryan said. "Obviously, they were the more physical team. They did everything, offense, defense. Shoot, they handed it to us pretty good."
There were plenty of young players fighting for a job in the contest, whether on the main roster or the team’s practice squad, and the Lions will have some difficult choices to make when they pare the roster to 53 on Saturday.
To be fair, Dwayne Washington had likely already worked his way off the bubble before Thursday’s game, but the rookie running back still managed to put an exclamation point on his months-long job interview, opening the scoring with a 58-yard touchdown run.
Washington’s romp came on the third snap of the game. Taking the handoff from quarterback Dan Orlovsky, the big back headed around the left edge and raced past an unblocked Bills defender down the sideline.
The big play capped an impressive preseason for Washington, which included a kickoff return for a touchdown in the opener and a short scoring run against Cincinnati in the second game of the slate.
He finished the game with 68 yards on seven carries.
"Washington shows he’s got some ability and that once he gets a crack he can do something," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "He’s not only a big back, but he’s got speed."
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive end Kerry Hyder stated his case for continued employment. A disruptive force all night, the defensive end racked up three sacks in the contest, while a fourth was wiped out by a penalty.
Hyder was just part of a dominant performance by Detroit’s front four. Rookie defensive end Anthony Zettel also recorded a sack, while defensive tackles Caraun Reid and A’Shawn Robinson combined for three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Robinson single-handedly ended two Buffalo drives, including the Bills’ lone trip to the red zone. The rookie defensive tackle batted a third-down pass at the line of scrimmage and the deflection was intercepted by teammate Brandon Copeland.
Rookie linebacker Antwione Williams also shined, leading the team with seven tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage.
"Our defense did a very nice job shutting down the run," Caldwell said. "I think we held them to maybe 40-something yards in the first half. Kerry Hyder did a nice job with three sacks, probably should’ve had a fourth there. Zettel did some things nice up front. Across the board they were playing tough and hard-nosed."
The Bills finished with just 170 yards in total offense.
The game remained close until late in the first half, when the Lions put together a 57-yard touchdown drive led by quarterback Jake Rudock. The rookie completed four of his eight throws for 38 yards during the possession, including a two-yard score on a fade to undrafted rookie wide receiver Jay Lee to cap the series.
“That was a nice drive,” Caldwell said during a halftime interview with Fox 2. “Particularly, they handled the clock extremely well. They were very, very efficient. Ran the ball when they had to, and also made some nice throws. Jake did a nice job on that drive.”
Lee finished the game with six receptions for 78 yards and the score. He had caught just three passes for 15 yards in the previous three games.
Rudock continued to put up points in the second half, leading touchdown drives of 79 and 40 yards. He routinely found slot receiver Jace Billingsley, the team’s leading receiver on the day. The undrafted rookie out of Eastern Oregon finished with seven grabs for 80 yards and touchdown, a one-handed grab that came on a desperation throw from a scrambling Rudock.
Rudock, who took over late in the first quarter, finished 14-for-23 for 172 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The only projected starters to play in the contest for the Lions were defensive end Devin Taylor, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and either Tavon Wilson or Rafael Bush, who came into the game still competing for the starting safety job beside Glover Quin.
"There were some guys that we wanted to work them in a particular role knowing that there’s going to be something that we just wanted to make certain that they were sharp on," Caldwell said. "Van Noy did a nice job in there. He did a good job just in terms of setting everything in terms of the defense, making some plays out there. So did (Taylor)."
Up next for the Lions are roster cuts. The team must trim down from 75 to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday. They’ll then begin preparation for the season opener, Sept. 11 in Indianapolis.