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By Joe Buscaglia
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Tale of two halves for Bills' Manuel, first-team offense in loss

Quarterback EJ Manuel and the first-team offense said they felt confident that a touchdown would finally come their way. They just didn’t expect it to come as late into the game as it did.

The Buffalo Bills struggled their way through the first two quarters, accounting for only 82 yards, six first downs, seven penalties, three turnovers and no points. The boos for the offensive output were out in full force early in the game, serenading Manuel and company as they trotted off the field for halftime, staring at a 24-0 deficit right in the face.

“Yes, obviously we can’t be happy with that,” running back Fred Jackson said. “That’s something we have to look at, but at the same time we can’t let that define who we are. It’s a preseason game that we didn’t look well in. We have to go out and make some adjustments and continue to move on.”

Then, the Bills offense woke up. It could have been induced by strong words from the head coach during halftime, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers putting in their second-team defense to start or a combination of the two.

Regardless of the reason the first-team offense marched down the field and finally ended the streak that had plagued them all preseason. On their 19th drive, the Bills scored a touchdown at last.

Manuel looked right, saw wide receiver Mike Williams in the end zone and completed the pass as he was knocked down to the turf.

"I take a lot out of it, you know I don't care who you're playing against. I think it's a matter of just having some pride about yourself and having pride as an offense," Manuel said. "I knew we had to come back and play better in the second half."

Head coach Doug Marrone wasn’t satisfied with just the one scoring drive. He sent the first-team offense right back out on the field after a Tampa Bay three-and-out, and much to his delight, the Bills drove the ball 60 yards in six plays for another touchdown. After starting the day just 9-of-18 for 67 yards and an interception in the first half, Manuel went 10-of-10 for 131 yards and a touchdown.

The two scoring drives weren’t enough, as Buffalo lost their preseason home opener to Tampa Bay 27-14. The starting defense came through at the beginning of the game, forcing a three-and-out and a turnover to keep the offense in the thick of things.

A lost fumble from C.J. Spiller gave the Buccaneers a shortened field and the Bills’ defense couldn’t stop them from ending their drive with a touchdown. That breakthrough was combined with a Connor Barth 43-yard field goal, a fumble returned for a touchdown and a 24-yard touchdown reception from rookie Mike Evans to give Tampa Bay a dominating halftime lead.

"We just came out flat, and that's usually not the case for us," said safety Aaron Williams. "For whatever reason, we just weren't ourselves today. I'm not really worried about it, we're just going to continue to get ready for Detroit and fix the things we did wrong."

Penalties were quite an issue for Buffalo throughout the game. Doug Marrone’s team were assessed 12 different fouls totaling 80 lost yards, but some of those penalties negated big gains and potential first downs.

After the Bills had two scoring drives to start the third quarter the starting offense was promptly taken out of the game. To the surprise of many, it wasn’t Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel getting in as the backup quarterback, the rarely used Dennis Dixon trotted into the game to relieve Manuel.

Dixon led one, and only one drive even though Marrone had planned on using him more. The quarterback fumbled the ball which led the head coach to worry about ball security issues. He was replaced by Jeff Tuel, who took over for the rest of the contest. Thad Lewis did not take a single snap.

Marrone, who has stated his dissatisfaction with the backup quarterback play in the past, said even Dixon could be in the running for the top job behind Manuel.

"Yeah, I think anyone that is in there is in the mix for the backup role," the coach.

The Bills lost four in the game to injury. Tight end Lee Smith (toe), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (neck), safety Da’Norris Searcy (stinger) and wide receiver T.J. Graham (neck) all left the exhibition contest prematurely.

Only one game remains on the preseason schedule for Buffalo, a Thursday night date with the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills will get back to practice on Monday, August 25 at the ADPRO Sports Training Center in Orchard Park.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

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People : Aaron WilliamsC.J. SpillerDoug MarroneFred JacksonJeff TuelLee SmithMarquise GoodwinMike EvansMike WilliamsNorris SearcyT.J. GrahamThad Lewis

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