ORCHARD PARK, NY – What caught our eye during the Indianapolis Colts’ 19-18 preseason win over the Buffalo Bills on a rainy Saturday night in Orchard Park, N.Y. The defense sealed it by thwarting a two-point conversion attempt by the Bills following Cardale Jones’ 4-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin as time expired.
Comeback kids: No Luck? No problem. With Andrew Luck looking on with a play sheet in one hand and baseball hat keeping the rain off his head – he was a surprising pre-game scratch (coach’s decision) – Stephen Morris delivered the fourth-quarter comeback. The first-year QB out of Miami collaborated with Grambling rookie Chester Rogers for a 57-yard touchdown pass with 10:42 remaining.
Rogers pulled in Morris’ pass along the right sideline, shook off the tackle attempt of veteran cornerback Sterling Moore and ran untouched for the go-ahead score.
It might not matter in the grand scheme of things – remember, it’s the preseason – but coach Chuck Pagano has stressed the need to get off to a strong start when everyone plays for keeps in early September. Even though it was second- and third-team players handling snaps down the stretch, it was encouraging to see players fighting for a roster spot find a way to emerge with a victory on the road and in the rain.
Morris finished 5-of-9 for 104 yards and one TD.
Besides, any success in the preseason merits a high-five. The Colts had lost eight of their last nine preseason games and were 12-38 since their last winning preseason in 2003.
Backup plan: When Luck was kept on the sideline, the first half belonged to his backup. Scott Tolzien started slowly, but in the spirit of the Olympics, showed a strong closing kick.
The Tolzien-led offense converted its first third-down situation – Robert Turbin burrowing for 2 yards on third-and-1 – but then suffered four consecutive three-and-outs. During that dry spell, 12 plays netted 16 yards.
Then, the Colts flipped the switch.
Tolzien generated scoring drives on the Colts’ final two possessions of the second quarter: a 42-yard touchdown pass on a perfectly-executed screen to running back Jordan Todman and Adam Vinatieri’s 24-yard field goal as time expired. Tolzien completed 5-of-7 passes for 92 yards on the two possessions.
That was in stark contract to a rocky first quarter: 4-of-8, 19 yards.
“I’m pleased,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said of Tolzien’s first half. “He’s a good football player and he managed this thing well. He just got better and better as the half went along. Really impressed with him.’’
Tolzien completed 12-of-23 passes for 140 yards and the TD to Todman.
Some highs: Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee tweaked his knee during camp, but you’d have a difficult time finding evidence at Ralph Wilson Stadium. In the first half, he averaged 58.6 yards on five punts. His five punts covered 47, 63, 67, 51 and 65 yards.
The coaching staff is expecting immediate contributions from rookie offensive lineman Joe Haeg, and he didn’t disappoint. He displayed his versatility by taking reps at right tackle, left tackle and left guard. Haeg seemed to hold up in pass protection while working at left tackle.
Linebacker Josh McNary, who’s fighting for a roster spot, generated the Colts’ only sack of the first half. He came free on a blitz and smothered Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel for an 8-yard loss. Also, defensive lineman T.Y. McGill showed inside push in the run game and end-turned-pass-rush-linebacker Earl Okine had a third-quarter sack.
Linebacker Edwin Jackson was credited with 10 tackles.
Some lows: One of the Colts’ offseason priorities – an improved run game – failed miserably. They were limited to 6 yards on 10 rushes in the first half and finished with 30 yards on 23 attempts.
Yes, missing Frank Gore – another healthy scratch – was a factor. But rookie Josh Ferguson and veteran Robert Turbin were given few creases.
The state of the ground attack after one game? No. 3 QB Stephen Morris was the leading rusher with 19 yards on three scrambles. Running backs Ferguson, Turbin and Trey Williams combined for 10 yards on 19 attempts.
Buffalo jumped to a 9-0 lead thanks to tight end Chris Gragg.
He gave the Bills a 2-0 lead by breaking through McAfee’s inside protection and blocking a first-quarter punt. McAfee limited the damage by batting the football out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Gragg then pushed the lead to 9-0 by beating slot cornerback Darius Butler on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Manuel.
Medical matters: The Colts lost three players in the first half, and none returned.
In the second quarter, starting right guard Denzelle Good exited with an unspecified knee injury, linebacker Sio Moore with a left hamstring injury and backup offensive lineman Kevin Graff with an injury to his left ankle.
Defensive lineman Ricky Lumpkin suffered an injury to his right hand in the third quarter.