ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After three preseason games on the road, the Buffalo Bills returned home to a renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium and put up a dud in the first half of a 27-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday.
Fans booed EJ Manuel and the Bills' first-team offense off the field at halftime after they failed to reach the red zone in their first eight possessions. At one point early in the second quarter, penalties forced the Bills into a third-and-40 situation.
The offense's futility ended when the Buccaneers pulled their starting defense at the start of the second half. Manuel promptly marched downfield and tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, the Bills' starting offense's first touchdown in 19 drives this preseason.
Here are some other thoughts on the Bills’ preseason loss:
Sammy Watkins did not play because of bruised ribs. The Bills started Williams and Robert Woods at receiver in his place. Woods was targeted three times in the first half without a catch, while Williams had two catches for 32 yards. Manuel went 9-for-18 for 67 yards and was intercepted once. After showing some promise earlier this preseason, the passing offense took a step back Saturday.
C.J. Spiller didn't help the offense's cause. The Bills leaned more on Spiller (eight carries) than Fred Jackson (three carries) in the first half, a reversal from last week's game in Pittsburgh. Spiller broke an 18-yard run but gained 9 yards on his other seven carries. Now healthy from an ankle injury that hampered him last season, Spiller running toward the sideline and not being able to turn the corner will be a problem for the Bills' offense, setting up longer to-go distances for Manuel on second and third downs.
More bad news for the Bills' offense? Every starting offensive lineman except right tackle Seantrel Henderson was flagged for a penalty in Saturday's game.
The Bills' defense was put in a tough spot and performed well, for the most part, in the first half. The run defense held Doug Martin to 38 yards on 12 carries, a noticeable improvement from last season when Bobby Rainey opened with an 80-yard touchdown run against the Bills. The pass defense, outside of an interception by Da'Norris Searcy, was more suspect. Linebacker Brandon Spikes had trouble sticking with Martin on a 22-yard catch, while Ron Brooks was beaten by Mike Evans for a 24-yard touchdown.
In a puzzling move, the Bills replaced Manuel with fourth-string quarterback Dennis Dixon for the first play of the fourth quarter. Dixon has barely received reps in practice and had taken only two snaps -- both kneeldowns -- this preseason prior to Saturday. Dixon's first and only drive ended when he fumbled a snap on fourth-and-1. The Bills haven't seen great play from either Jeff Tuel or Thad Lewis this preseason, and with Dixon's forgettable possession, the Bills may have the NFL's worst backup quarterback situation.