ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' preseason home opener Saturday was dubbed "family day," a game in which the Bills were delighted to show off $130 million in offseason renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Instead, the young fans in attendance learned a lesson in how to boo a futile offense off the field.
The Bills' first-team offense failed to reach the red zone -- or score any points -- in its eight first-half possessions, extending its streak without a touchdown to 18 preseason possessions. By the end of the second quarter, the Bills were in a 24-0 hole.
As quarterback EJ Manuel and his counterparts trotted 90 yards across the field to the tunnel, they were treated to boos from the thinning crowd en route to the locker room.
"In my opinion, the thing about sports is sometimes that happens. You come out, you obviously want to have a great day, a great product for your home fans. It's a sell-out crowd, being it's kids day and everything, so everybody was out and wanted to see us perform well," Manuel said. "Coming off the field in the first half, I knew we had to finish strong."
Sure, the Bills' first-team offense finished strong. They scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to begin the second half -- but only after the Buccaneers pulled their defensive starters. The stadium was half-empty by the time the Bills put any points on the board.
After the game, second-year wide receiver Marquise Goodwin tweeted a message to the fans who booed the offense at halftime:
Looks like we will have to play against our own "fans" this year. Same ones booing prolly the first in line for autographs. Smh #FEWDM
— MARQUISE GOODWIN (@flashgoodwin) August 24, 2014
Without Sammy Watkins -- who sat with bruised ribs -- the Bills' first-team performance against the Bucs' top defensive group was abysmal. Manuel was intercepted on his fourth pass, C.J. Spiller lost a fumble after his first catch, and Manuel was strip-sacked on a play that Tampa returned for a touchdown.
At one point, penalties forced the Bills into a third-and-40 situation, one they predictably did not convert.
Manuel was asked after the game how much offensive coordinator Nate Hackett was holding back from his game plan, given it was only a preseason contest.
"There was a few things I asked him for," Manuel said. "Of course, he said, 'We're saving this and that for the regular season.' Which I understand, but at the same time, we still want to go out there and we want to win, we want to move the ball, we want to score touchdowns. But there are some things that we're going to continue to save for Chicago [in the season opener]."
Whatever Hackett and the Bills are "saving," Bills fans are waiting with baited breath.
The offense's problems, however, extend beyond the vanilla offense and the absence of Watkins. Every starter on the offensive line except right tackle Seantrel Henderson was flagged for a penalty. Fred Jackson ended the first half with minus-2 yards on three carries, while Spiller ran for 27 yards on eight carries, with 18 yards coming on a single run.
"We've got to get playmakers on the field; we've got to get guys to make plays," Marrone said. "We're not getting beat physically. What we're doing is not executing well."
Manuel's 9-for-18 showing in the first half might erode some optimism in the second-year quarterback, who has been inconsistent this preseason -- just as he was last season.
"I know there is still tons of work left to do. The good thing is we have two more weeks to hone in on that. I know the product that we have isn't what we want to have in Chicago," Manuel said. "We have to come back, put our work hats on and go back to work."
Bills fans are restless, and waiting.