ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – It was an ugly first half for the Bills offense in their preseason opener against the Colts, turning the ball over four times and the only touchdown coming from the defense. But Matt Barkley led a fourth quarter comeback to erase a 24-10 deficit to win 27-24 capped by a Tyler Bass 46-yard field goal.
Josh Allen and the starters got the night off so it was the Case Keenum show for the first half and it was not pretty, sloppy actually is the best way to put it.
But two ways to look at Keenum’s performance. On one hand, it was sloppy, there’s no question about it as he was responsible for three of four turnovers in the first half. On the other hand, if Keenum ever does need to play during a real game, he won’t have an offense line consisting up backups and would be throwing to guys Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, etc.
Keenum’s best drive was actually on their opening possession, even though it didn’t result in points on the board. The Bills marched down the field and went for it on 4th down at Indy’s 5-yard line, but Keenum’s pass was too high for O.J. Howard in the end zone.
The next drive Keenum was intercepted on a pass a little too high for Jamison Crowder, but he did get his hands on it and it bounced off them and into the hands of Rodney McLeod. The following drive they went three and out. Then it looked like on their next series Keenum was getting things going but Jake Kumerow fumbled after the catch and the Colts recovered. That was the one turnover that wasn’t Keenum’s fault in the first half. And just when once again it looked like the Bills had momentum, in the red zone, Keenum was picked off again, this time looking for Isaiah Hodgins down the sideline at the Colts 4-yard line. Keenum finished 11-18 for 86 yards, two interceptions and was sacked twice.
Barkley came in to start the third quarter and managed to end four of his five drives with points. Tyler Bass made a 48-yard field goal, Raheem Blackshear punched in a one-yard touchdown and with less than four minutes to go, found the end zone again, this time on a three-yard run. Duke Johnson rushed for the two-point conversion to tie the game at 24.
And finally, Bass capped off the comeback with a 46-yard field goal as time expired to win it 27-24. Barkley finished 18-24 for 224 yards and an interception.
Offensively, rookie wide receiver Khalil Shakir really stood out, leading the way with 5 catches for 92 yards. Even though he mostly played in the slot last year at Boise State, he proved he can line up everywhere and be effective. Also making an impact was Isaiah Hodgins. All of his nine catches (for 77 yards) came in the second half from Barkley including five on the game-winning drive for 36 yards.
Defensively rookies Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford started at cornerback with Dane Jackson getting the night off. Elam’s night was inconsistent. He made an impact on the Colts first drive with a pass breakup to force a three and out. He was also flagged for defensive pass interference on Indy’s first touchdown drive. Elam was shaken up before halftime, going to the blue, sideline medical tent and evaluated for a head injury but was later cleared to return (even though his night was done.) Benford earned the right to start in this game after having a strong end to training camp, making the most of any opportunities he got with the starters. Like Elam, Benford had a big pass breakup as well, forcing a turnover on downs as Matt Ryan was looking for Michael Pittman towards the end of the first quarter.
Terrel Bernard was responsible for the Bills only first half touchdown as he recovered a fumble caused by Boogie Basham’s strip sack on Nick Foles and took it 69 yards to the end zone. But just like any rookie he also had some moments of looking like a rookie. He was beat badly on a quick slant on 4th and 8 for a gain of 23-yards on the Colts first touchdown drive.
Seventh-round pick Baylon Spector, who was very much on the bubble, isn’t going down without a fight when it comes to making this team. He was all over the place in this game. Spector led the team with nine tackles and a pass breakup. He would have had a 17-yard sack but it was wiped out by a penalty on defensive tackle Daniel Joseph.
And finally, Matt Araiza aka Punt God’s monster leg was on full display as his first and only punt went a whopping 82 yards! It ended up bouncing in the end zone for a touchback but still. My goodness. Araiza was also the holder for Bass’ extra point attempt and two field goals.