Jared Goff bounces back after rough start, Lions clipped by Bills in preseason opener
Detroit — If Friday's preseason opener is indicative of much, the Detroit Lions have plenty of wrinkles to iron out ahead of next month's season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Carried by their reserves, the Lions managed to rally for a lead late before the Buffalo Bills countered with a long fourth-down conversion to set up a game-winning field goal in the closing seconds to escape with a 16-15 victory.
But the final score in the preseason is of little consequence. The night's focus was on the starters, a significant percentage which played the first quarter of the game, as the Lions battled through their share of struggles on both offense and defense.
Quarterback Jared Goff got off to a shaky start, seeing his first pass knocked away from intended receiver Tyrell Williams. Two plays later, Goff would be sacked by rookie edge rusher Greg Rousseau, who got by Detroit's first-rounder Penei Sewell, leading to a punt and a smattering of boos from the third-full stands at Ford Field.
After the Bills netted a 50-yard field goal with their opening possession, Goff settled down, leading an 18-play drive that ended with a 28-yard Randy Bullock field goal.
Throwing mostly short, Goff completed seven of his eight throws on the possession for 56 yards. The Lions converted a trio of third downs, including a pair of short-yard runs for Jamaal Williams, before stalling out in the red zone.
“I'm not going to ever complain about that," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "That was good, but you can’t always count on an 18-play drive either. I think there's something to possessing the ball, but I think that as good as that is, if you're going to possess it for that long, you need to come away with a touchdown, which those things we will talk about. You'd like to be able to hit some shot plays and do some things down the field. But, look, it was encouraging to see those big boys up front just go to work."
After the starters gave way to the backups for both teams, the Bills found the end zone for the game's first touchdown. They marched 83 yards on 15 plays, eating more than nine minutes off the clock in the process.
Detroit struggled to slow Buffalo's ground game throughout the first half as the visitors racked up 97 yards on 21 carries through two quarters. The Bills capped their scoring drive when running back Devin Singletary leaked out of the backfield uncovered for a 6-yard touchdown reception.
The Lions, led by backup quarterback Tim Boyle, had a chance to respond before the half, but couldn't muster a first down while running a two-minute drill. Rookie running back Jermar Jefferson got stuffed on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Bills, who added a 37-yard field goal to go up 13-3 at the half.
The sides traded punts throughout the third quarter, but the Lions entered the final frame on the move after running back Dedrick Mills broke two tackles on a 20-yard fourth-down run down to the Bills' 20.
A chop block by Lions offensive tackle Dan Skipper ended the hopes of a touchdown, but a 27-yard field goal by Bullock cut Buffalo's led to seven.
The defense quickly got the ball back for the Lions after defensive tackle Bruce Hector broke free up the middle for a punt-forcing sack.
With David Blough replacing Boyle, the Lions worked into Bills territory, but appeared done for when the defense intercepted Blough on third down and returned it for a touchdown. But the officials overturned the call on the field, while also assessing the Bills for a 15-yard personal foul on the play.
With new life, running back Craig Reynolds, signed a day earlier, made a cut behind the line of scrimmage and outran the Bills defense, diving across the goal line for a 24-yard touchdown. Detroit's two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving them down one with 7:45 remaining.
Another Detroit sack, this one courtesy Julian Okwara, gave the Lions a chance to take their first lead. Blough wasted little time, finding undrafted rookie Javon McKinley for 35 yards to midfield. Three plays later, Blough connected with a wide open Tom Kennedy across the middle, setting up another short field goal for Bullock to put the Lions in front, 15-13, with under two minutes.
Down to their final shot, Bills' third-string quarterback Jake Fromm found receiver Marquez Stevenson for 42 yards on fourth-and-10, setting up a game-wining, 44-yard field goal by Tyler Bass.
"I thought they played hard," Campbell said. "We wanted them to compete, they did. From Day 1, we said we wanted to give ourselves a chance to win at the end of the game, and even for a preseason game, we did do that. We were in it at the end.
"Certainly, we all know it's not good enough, but this is also about evaluating the talent and giving these guys an opportunity to run the ball, catch the ball, pressure, stunt, cover, all those things. We got a really good look at guys, special teams-wise, as well. I'll tell you what, the energy out there was outstanding for a preseason game."
► Among the players sitting out for Detroit were starters tight end T.J. Hockenson, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and running back D'Andre Swift. The defense was closer to full strength, with only Michael Brockers still sidelined by injury.
► Mike Ford continued to serve as the starting nickel back as he's done much of training camp.
► Defensive tackle Kevin Strong, seeing extra playing time with Brockers out, made a couple nice plays in the first half, including a tackle for a loss and a third-down stop that forced a punt. He added a forced fumble in the third quarter and finished with a team-high six tackles.
"One thing I like (about this scheme) is that I was just able to get off the ball," Strong said. "I don’t have to take many double-teams. That’s a good thing. I like the whole scheme. They fit us into the right positions to make plays, so that’s been good. You’ve got a lot of more one-on-ones and things like that, so you can really show yourself."
► Rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown caught three balls, although one was wiped out by a holding penalty against center Frank Ragnow. St. Brown's best grab came on a well-run route on third down that extended Detroit's scoring drive.
"We love him," Goff said. "He’s going to be great."
► Jack Fox boomed an 66-yard punt and Jalen Reeves-Maybin made the tackle in coverage after just a 3-yard return.
► The Lions struggled to find breathing room running the ball before Mills and Reynolds got going against the Bills' third-string defense. The backs finished the half with 19 yards on 11 carries, with starter Jamaal Williams finishing his night with 15 yards on nine totes.