One of the NFL's worst last season, the Buffalo defense is restocked and rejuvenated to try to help the Bills return to the playoffs.
Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings showed them how much work they have left to do before the regular season.
Ponder threw a first-quarter touchdown pass in a sharp three-possession appearance and the Vikings breezed to a 36-14 victory on Friday night over the Bills, who saw a decent performance from backup quarterback candidate Vince Young but not much else.
"We're putting up points, and that's a good thing to do. There's still some plays that we've got to get fixed and get better at, but it's a good starting point," said Ponder, who went 10 for 13 for 136 yards and no turnovers.
Rookie Blair Walsh made five of his six field goal attempts for the Vikings (No. 29 in the AP Pro32), who got 64 yards rushing on two scrambles by backup quarterback Joe Webb.
Young's competitor for the No. 2 spot behind Ryan Fitzpatrick is former Vikings draft pick Tyler Thigpen, whose pass late in the fourth quarter was intercepted and returned 20 yards for a touchdown by rookie linebacker Audie Cole.
On the next play from scrimmage, Cole picked off Brad Smith's pass and — believe it or not — ran that one 30 yards for a score. Cole was swarmed in the end zone in celebration.
"I don't touch the ball usually, so I just tried to make some moves out there," Cole said.
The 29-year-old Young, drafted third overall by Tennessee in 2006, is trying to revive his career again after a number of problems on and off the field.
Though the Bills have committed financially to Fitzpatrick, giving him a $59 million extension last season, he's had a sporadic career. So the backup job is important.
Young went 8 for 14 for 123 yards and no turnovers for the Bills (No. 19), including a 64-yard strike to T.J. Graham to open the second half. That set up a short touchdown run by Tashard Choice, who left the game with an unspecified injury.
"Vince came out a little bit ahead tonight," Bills coach Chan Gailey said.
Young wasn't so sure.
"I still don't feel comfortable and where I want to be at," he said. "You never know what's going to happen."
Owning the NFL's longest active streak of 12 straight years without reaching the postseason, the Bills have a promising offense. Their performance last week against Washington was weak, so this was a little better. Fitzpatrick finished 8 for 11 for 58 yards and no turnovers over four possessions.
The game could not have gone better for Minnesota's first-team offense, which is eagerly waiting the return of running back Adrian Peterson from reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
"Christian did an awesome job in there. He was so poised, and I'm so proud of him. He just took leaps and bounds this game," newcomer Jerome Simpson said.
Simpson did that, too. Literally.
Ponder was sacked by Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams on the opening drive, but he was 3 for 3 for 56 yards, including a 33-yard completion to Simpson, who hurdled over Bills free safety Jairus Byrd like he was on the track at the London Olympics.
"Normally sacks stop drives. We've got to continue to work defensively and keep them reeling once we create that sack situation," Gailey said.
Ponder hit fullback Jerome Felton from 1 yard out for the score and guided the Vikings to the 4 on the following possession.
"We had some long passes completed on us, some long runs. We've got to work on those and we've got to eliminate those," Gailey said.
Williams, a Pro Bowl pick in 2010, is coming off surgery on his left foot. The pass rush he applied was one of the few positive signs for Buffalo's starting defense, which gave up a franchise-worst 5,938 yards last year as a 5-2 record in October became 6-10 by the end. Williams and his unrelated namesake two spots down the defensive line, free agent prize Mario Williams, are being counted on to help bring this group back to life.
The Vikings didn't punt until the third quarter when the lineup was all backups, and they gained 261 yards by halftime.
After giving up 260 yards rushing in San Francisco last week, the Vikings were better on defense, too. Mistral Raymond, fighting for the starting free safety spot, made consecutive tackles of Fred Jackson — the first one went for a 2-yard loss — to force a punt by the Bills on their first possession.
"Guys were flying around, and it was good to see that continuity," said All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen, who was rested in the first game.
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