From Day 1, Dan Campbell has emphasized the need for his team to give itself a chance to win football games. Despite a sluggish offensive start and a few defensive mistakes late, the Detroit Lions did that Friday.
The Lions lost their preseason opener, 16-15, to the Buffalo Bills on Tyler Bass’ 44-yard field goal with 15 seconds to play, but Campbell walked away mostly pleased with his team’s performance.
“We said we wanted to give ourselves a chance to win at the end of the game, and even for a preseason game we did do that,” Campbell said. “We were in it at the end. Certainly, we all know it’s not good enough, but this is also about evaluating the talent and giving these guys an opportunity to run the ball, catch the ball, pressure. Stunt. Cover. All those things, and so we got a really good look at guys.”
FIRST-HALF OBSERVATIONS: Lions rookie Penei Sewell gives up sack on opening series
Playing without starting running back D’Andre Swift and top pass catcher T.J. Hockenson because of injuries, the Lions sputtered out of the gate Friday.
Jared Goff, in his Lions debut, completed 7 of 9 passes but threw for just 56 yards while playing the entire first quarter. His first pass was deflected by Bills linebacker Tyler Matakevich, and the Lions went three-and-out on their first series after No. 7 overall pick Penei Sewell allowed a drive-killing sack.
Goff led a 10-minute, 18-play, 75-yard drive on his second series, though the Lions settled for a 28-yard Randy Bullock field goal.
“That was good, but you can’t always count on 18-play drive, either,” Campbell said. “I think there’s something to possessing the ball, but I think that as good as that is, if you’re going to possess that long you need to come away with a touchdown, which those things we’ll talk about.”
The Bills, coming off a 13-3 season, sat most of their starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Josh Allen, receiver Stefon Diggs and top defensive players Tre’Davious White and Jerry Hughes.
Goff gave way to backup quarterback Tim Boyle in the second and third quarters before third-string quarterback David Blough nearly rallied the Lions to victory.
Blough led two fourth-quarter scoring drives to give the Lions a brief 15-13 lead.
Craig Reynolds, who signed Thursday, scored on a 24-yard run with 7:36 to play.
Julian Okwara sacked Jake Fromm on the ensuing possession to force a Buffalo punt, and Blough drove the Lions for a go-ahead field goal with 1:38 remaining.
Buffalo started its final possession at its own 20. After three straight incompletions to start the drive, Fromm hit Marquez Stevenson for a 42-yard gain on fourth-and-10 to put the Bills in field goal range.
Blough finished 5 of 6 passing for 76 yards. Boyle, playing behind a leaky second-string offensive line, was 8 of 15 passing for 38 yards. And Reynolds had a game-high 49 yards rushing on six carries for the Lions.
“It’s preseason and we’re still figuring things out a little bit and doing our thing,” Goff said. “The second drive is what we want it to look like. Make plays down the field, guys getting open. I was throwing some good balls and they were making plays and the line was protecting their nuts off. Excuse me, they were protecting really hard. It was fun.”
Defensively, the Lions played their starters two series – the unit allowed one field goal – and got solid efforts from Okwara and Kevin Strong, who had six tackles, including one for loss, and forced a fumble.