Lions-Bills observations: Matthew Stafford sharp in first action, penalties pile up
Detroit — After a week of speculation, the Lions opted to play their healthy starters, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, in the team's third preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on Friday night.
Prior to exiting the contest midway through the second quarter, Stafford was sharp, completing 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards. But it was the Bills that went into the locker room with a 14-13 advantage and would hold on for a 24-20 victory at Ford Field.
"I love playing," Stafford said. "I don't care what the situation is. We practice hard and I want to go out there and play. It was good to get out there to operate."
The bigger story from the otherwise meaningless game was a pair of injuries to key Lions starters. Linebacker Jarrad Davis and center Frank Ragnow both exited after having their legs rolled into by another player.
Davis was knocked out on the opening possession when teammate Devon Kennard fell into the back of his legs. Davis struggled to support weight on his right leg and had to be helped to the bench before he was carted to the locker room.
A downed Bills defender slammed into the side of Ragnow's left knee, resulting in his exit.
With Ragnow out, Graham Glasgow moved to center, while Kenny Wiggins and Joe Dahl manned the guard spots.
The team didn't provide an update on either player following the game.
"With J.D. and Frank, there's nothing to really report right now," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We'll see what it looks like tomorrow and go through the normal procedures after the game and try to see what that looks like and go from there."
Here are some additional observations from the game:
► The Lions continued the positive trend of producing turnovers. In the opening quarter, cornerback Justin Coleman punched the ball free from the grasp of slot receiver Cole Beasley. The loose ball was recovered by safety Quandre Diggs and the Lions turned the opportunity into a short Matt Prater field goal to open the game's scoring.
Detroit recovered a second fumble on a kickoff when defensive backs C.J. Moore and Charles Washington combined to jar the ball loose and rookie Will Harris jumped on it for his second fumble recovery of the preseason.
"It's always positive when we can go back to the classroom tomorrow and show those plays and the techniques that we're working on and see them show up in the game," Patricia said. "It gives some validity to some of the stuff we're doing in practice."
The Lions should have had a third turnover, when Bills quarterback Josh Allen made an ill-advised throw across his body into the waiting arms of linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, but the play was negated by a late hit on Allen by Christian Jones.
► Jones' penalty was one of a series of boneheaded mistakes by the Lions defense, which also included a late hit out of bounds by safety Tracy Walker and a taunting penalty by A'Shawn Robinson. Tavon Wilson also drew a 15-yard flag for a horse-collar tackle in the closing minutes of the second quarter.
Walker's and Robinson's infractions occurred on the same play, a 27-yard Frank Gore run to open the second quarter, setting up the Bills' first touchdown of the half. The Bills got into the end zone a second time on the play following Wilson's penalty.
"Obviously, they're not acceptable," Patricia said. "We can't have it. It's not going to help us win. Those are things we've got to address and get cleaned up."
► The Lions scored their lone touchdown on a beautifully designed pick play on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Marvin Jones set a legal pick to spring rookie running back Ty Johnson on a wheel route. Stafford's ball was perfect, hitting Johnson in stride for the score.
"It was obviously a nice little route, a release route out of the backfield," Stafford said. "He got a step on his defender and I was able to kind of fit it in there and he did a great job of holding on to it. It wasn't an easy catch, a lot of action going on around him running to the front pylon."
► Lions receivers dropped a couple passes in the red zone, with Danny Amendola unable to handle one slightly behind him and tight end T.J. Hockenson bumbling a sidearm toss that probably would have been a second touchdown for Stafford.
"I thought it I put my arm up, the (defender) was just going to tomahawk me," Stafford said about the pass to Hockenson. "So I just tried to keep (the ball) down there and get it to him. We had a laugh about it afterwards. I wish I could have thrown it a little bit better for him and obviously he wished he could have caught it.
"Those are things we'll look at, but that's just getting used to playing with each other."
► Other than the drop, Hockenson also drew a holding call in the red zone, which helped kill a scoring threat. On the positive side, he showed the impact he can have as a pass-catcher, hauling in three balls for 52 yards, including a 32-yard gain on a crossing route.
► Prater capped the opening half by drilling a 61-yard field goal as time expired.
► David Fales, not Josh Johnson, was the first quarterback off the bench for the Lions. But it was the latter who delivered the better performance. Under steady pressure, Fales completed just three of his eight throws for 22 yards.
Johnson came in during the fourth quarter and led a 95-yard touchdown drive. After the Lions got the ball back with 4:50 remaining, the veteran steered the offense back into the red zone, including a fourth-down conversion, before rookie receiver Travis Fulgham lost a fumble after a catch and gave the ball back to the Bills.