Bills not taking last preseason tuneup for granted
Buffalo coach Chan Gailey might be pleased about the Bills' promising preseason performance last weekend, but he's not going overboard.
''I feel good about where we are,'' Gailey said, before adding a few words of caution. ''We don't need to cancel practice.''
To make it clear of how much more work needs to be done, Gailey intends to have his starters play a series or two on Thursday, when the Bills close their preseason schedule at home against the Detroit Lions.
''They'll play,'' he said. ''If you don't play them a little bit, they kind of lose the feel for the game. And I don't want them to lose the feel of the game.''
With less than two weeks to go before opening the regular season at Kansas City on Sept. 11, Gailey's taking nothing for granted despite a recent good game. They're coming off a 35-32 overtime win over Jacksonville on Saturday, with the Bills first-stringers showing signs of progress.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went 11 of 12 - his last attempt was an incompletion - for 165 yards. He led the Bills to 17 points on their first three possessions.
And the Bills defensive starters limited the Jaguars to minus-1 yard offense and one first down through three series.
That was a marked improvement on both sides of the ball after Buffalo was outscored by a combined 34-13 in losing its preseason games at Chicago and Denver.
''I guess I'd be lying if I didn't say yeah, I feel better about it,'' Gailey said. ''But we've still got some things we can continue to get better on.''
Detroit (3-0) will provide the Bills a test in what's become the two teams' annual preseason finale. The Lions are coming off an encouraging victory of their own, in which they out-muscled the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots last weekend. Brady was particularly overwhelmed by the Lions aggressive pass rush in a 34-10 loss.
Defensive end Ndamukong Suh also got into a post-whistle scuffle with Patriots lineman Logan Mankins.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz expects to play his healthy starters, including running back Jahvid Best, who's been out since leaving the second preseason game with a concussion. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot) and receiver Nate Burleson (elbow) are among the regulars who have been ruled out.
For Buffalo, there are several subplots going into the game being played two days before NFL teams must make their final cuts to establish their 53-player rosters.
The competition at starting left tackle is still up for grabs between incumbent Demetrius Bell and left guard Andy Levitre. Gailey wants his starting five set once the team returns to practice on Monday.
With receiver Donald Jones set to miss his second game with a concussion, Marcus Easley has an opportunity to lock up the No. 2 spot opposite starter Stevie Johnson. Easley had five catches for 51 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville.
Also notable is linebacker Shawne Merriman is scheduled to play in order to get one more tuneup after he's missed the past two games with a groin injury.
''He's going to play. He needs to play,'' Gailey said.
Merriman's health is a key concern for the Bills, who are counting on the former star pass-rusher to return to his once-dominating ''Lights Out'' form. Merriman finished last season on injured-reserve. And he never made it through his first practice with the Bills in November, after Buffalo acquired him off of waivers.
Merriman had a solid debut, registering two sacks in the Bills preseason-opening 10-3 loss at Chicago. He hurt his groin a few days later and only returned to practice last week.
For Fitzpatrick, the objective is to be ready for the regular season. He'd like to see the offense build on the momentum it established against the Jaguars.
''That was good especially since we are such a young team and young offense,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''To be able to go out there and do it in a game situation, that is going to build confidence.''