The Buffalo Bills will be off from work throughout the upcoming long Labor Day weekend, which is fitting for a team that rested 28 players during its 31-0 preseason finale loss Thursday night to the Detroit Lions and has recently been as quiet and calm as the late-summer Lake Erie breeze.
A season-ending knee injury to second-round pick Reggie Ragland and news of a four-game suspension for star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus were among the unsettling developments around training camp, but since the Bills returned to their practice facility Aug. 23, there has been a palpable peace around the building.
Consider that, in 2013, the Bills spent the final week of the preseason facing the possibility of starting then-undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel at quarterback in the regular-season opener following a career-ending concussion to Kevin Kolb and surprise knee surgery for EJ Manuel. Two years ago, the Bills signed Kyle Orton on Aug. 30, setting the stage for him to become the starter a month later. And on Aug. 31 of last year, the Bills ended a much-hyped three-way competition by naming Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback.
Taylor is now the undisputed starter and the Bills have protected him as such, limiting Taylor to 35 snaps over three preseason contests. One of his indispensable assets, running back LeSean McCoy, was on the field for 21 snaps this August and spent the final two preseason games on the bench. Taylor's other talent, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, played 10 snaps in his only preseason action last week before the Bills put him back in a protective bubble.
The result of the Bills' caution? As they return to practice Tuesday to begin full-scale preparations for their Sept. 11 regular-season opener in Baltimore, the Bills will have Taylor, McCoy and Watkins all fully healthy. That was hardly the case last season when McCoy was still nursing a hamstring injury and Watkins was dealing with glute and hamstring issues.
For the first time in years, September has rolled into Buffalo without drama. No key injuries, no quarterback shuffling, no bluster from Rex Ryan -- just a suddenly stable team that appears ready for its Week 1 test against the Ravens.
Here are notes from Thursday's game:
Lawson gets extended action: Veteran outside linebacker Manny Lawson was the only veteran starter to get time in Thursday's game, playing the entire first half. Ryan told reporters earlier this week that Lawson would play because he missed the first two preseason contests as he recovered from a pectoral injury. But the decision could also stem from the NFL's investigation into Lawson's potential violation of the personal conduct policy. The league had no update Thursday about the status of Lawson's case, but it remains possible he is suspended early this season.
Rex gushes about Goose: Ryan sung the praises of undrafted rookie fullback Glenn Gronkowski to the team's television broadcast during halftime, saying the play of Rob Gronkowski's youngest brother was the "only bright spot" in the game and that the Bills might just need to keep "Goose" on their 53-man roster now. The Bills have veteran Jerome Felton entrenched at fullback, but Ryan has not ruled out keeping Gronkowski as a second fullback; a season-ending injury to tight end Chris Gragg could also help Gronkowski's cause.
QB depth chart: With Taylor on the sideline, Manuel played the first quarter and into the second before yielding the offense to Cardale Jones. The Bills' offensive line, composed mostly of inexperienced third-team players, gave Manuel little opportunity to throw. He was sacked three times and completed just 1 of 5 passes for 10 yards. Jones, who did not play last week in Washington because of shoulder soreness, played the remainder of the game, completing 12-of-26 passes for 117 yards. He was intercepted in the fourth quarter on a pass that was tipped at the line and caught by another Lions defender.
Wishbone? Yes, the Wishbone: Ryan once joked that offensive coordinator Greg Roman needs a golf cart to move around his playbook, so it wasn't a huge surprise when Roman dug up the "Wishbone" offense for a handful of plays in the first quarter. Time might have passed by that formation, which uses a fullback and two halfbacks aligned behind the quarterback, but the Bills got some use out of it Thursday night. Ryan told the Bills' preseason game broadcasters that he was concerned with his offensive line protecting their quarterback after protection issues that resulted in Taylor getting hit last week in Washington; he would have played more of the formation had running back James Wilder not been injured.
Who got hurt? Safety Colt Anderson, who could make the 53-man roster in a special teams role, left in the second quarter because of a foot injury and was later ruled out for the game. Defensive lineman Jerel Worthy left in the second quarter but was later cleared to return. Wilder was injured late in the first quarter and taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a potential concussion; he did not return. Offensive lineman Marquis Lucas left in the third quarter because of an ankle injury. Tight end Blake Annen left in the fourth quarter because of a neck injury.