Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes put Vikings starter Christian Ponder on his back on the very first play from scrimmage.
Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel then provided the knockout punch to start the second half in leading Buffalo to a 20-16 preseason victory over Minnesota on Friday night.
And just like that, the new-look Bills — coming off a near top-to-bottom offseason transformation — continue to show signs of shedding their long-losing past by improving to 2-0.
“We’re breeding an attitude around here,” center Eric Wood said. “And we’re trying to be the toughest team out there each week. And you don’t do that by going out and laying an egg in the preseason.”
So far so good for a team that has gone 13 seasons without making the playoffs and not enjoyed a winning finish since 2004, when Buffalo went 9-7.
Hughes keyed a sturdy defensive effort with two sacks and a forced fumble, and backup linebacker Jamie Blatnick recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Hughes was starting in place of defensive end Mario Williams, who was held out after complaining of soreness following practice Wednesday.
“That’s what we’ve been practicing for the first few months, since minicamp, we’ve been practicing being stingy,” said Hughes, who was acquired in a trade with Indianapolis in May. “Everybody’s flying around to the ball, just creating havoc. So us practicing like that, it’s great to see it put on game film.”
And Buffalo finally found its groove on offense when Manuel took over in the second half. Greeted by cheers as he took the field, Manuel hit all six attempts, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith, to cap a 14-play, 80-yard second-half opening drive in putting Buffalo ahead 20-3.
Manuel, a first-round draft pick out of Florida State, finished 10 of 12 for 92 yards passing in continuing to inch his way toward securing the starting job after veteran Kevin Kolb struggled in the first half.
The Vikings (0-2) again sputtered on offense without their top threat, running back Adrian Peterson, who continues to be rested through the preseason.
Starter Christian Ponder went 5 of 12 for 53 yards passing through five series. Backup Matt Cassel wasn’t much better in a first half in which the Vikings combined for 74 yards of offense and four first downs.
“The only thing I could say to myself while that was happening was, ‘I’m glad it’s the preseason,’” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “Let’s get this out of the way now. We definitely don’t want to be doing this in September.”
And yet Frazier had to acknowledge having some concerns, even though he wasn’t anticipating the Bills to come at them with an exotic blitzing attack.
“We could’ve done some things better, no matter what they did,” he said. “We didn’t execute as well as we could have.”
Ponder certainly didn’t see Hughes coming, when he was sacked for a 7-yard loss on the first play.
“If this was a game that counted, it’d be tough,” Ponder said. “But it’s more practice for us.”
The Vikings could start by practicing snapping the ball.
Backup center Joe Berger snap the ball over Cassel’s head and into the end zone, which led to Blatnick’s go-ahead touchdown with 8:45 left in the second quarter.
The Vikings made the score respectable with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter behind third-string quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Running back Joe Banyard scored on a 1-yard plunge, and Bethel-Thompson hit Rodney Smith with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 4:36 left.
The Bills have won two preseason games for the first time since finishing 2-2 in 2010. And coming off a 44-20 win at Indianapolis on Sunday, they’ve now combined to score 64 points under new coach Doug Marrone. That’s five more than they managed in four preseason games last year under Chan Gailey.
Not all they news was positive after Kolb struggled in making his preseason debut. The seventh-year player returned to practice this week after missing eight days because of a death in his family and after twisting his left knee while slipping on a wet rubber mat in practice Aug. 3.
Though Kolb’s knee looked fine, his accuracy was off. He went 10 of 17 for 66 yards and an interception on his first six possessions. He then hit three of four passes for 45 yards in the final 38 seconds of the first half on a drive that ended with Dustin Hopkins 35-yard field goal that put Buffalo ahead 13-3.
NOTES: Bills backup receiver Kevin Elliott was carted off the field during the first half after it appeared he hurt his left leg. … Vikings WR Jarius Wright sustained an upper body injury and is still being evaluated. … Hopkins also hit a 35-yard field goal. … Vikings kicker Blair Walsh hit a 36-yarder, and also missed wide right from 49 yards in the first quarter.
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