The only encouraging news to come out of the Buffalo Bills' preseason finale occurred about 90 minutes before the opening kickoff.
That's when rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, tested his injured left knee by throwing numerous passes to several teammates and coaches.
Otherwise, what followed was a meltdown for the Bills (2-2), who unraveled in a 35-13 loss to the Detroit Lions (3-1) on Thursday.
Matt Leinart struggled in his Bills' debut, going 3 of 10 for 11 yards passing before being yanked after the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner threw his second interception. Just as bad, coach Doug Marrone announced after the game that two-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd traveled to North Carolina to see a specialist after complaining about a previously undisclosed foot injury.
Quarterback remains Buffalo's most pressing need. If Manuel's not ready to practice by Wednesday, the Bills are prepared to have undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel open the season against New England on Sept. 8.
The Lions, by comparison, rested most of their starters, and watched their backups make quick work of another AFC East opponent a week after a 40-9 rout of New England.
Here are five things we know about the Lions from the preseason:
WHERE'S ZIGGY? The Lions remain tight-lipped on the status of rookie first-round pick, defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah. Coach Jim Schwartz said Ansah didn't travel with the team because he was hurt, but wouldn't provide any details on the nature of the injury. Ansah is believed to have hurt his head after colliding with offensive lineman Leroy Harris in practice Saturday. "He was one of three guys that didn't travel. The guys that didn't travel, we thought it best to leave them home," Schwartz said. When pressed further, he added: "I'm not going to comment anywhere else."
DOMINANT D: Even without Ansah, Ndamukong Suh and other defensive regulars, the defense continued to create turnovers. After forcing four turnovers against New England, Detroit picked up three against Buffalo to finish the preseason with nine (four interceptions). They also added two sacks for a total of nine this preseason.
DROPSIES: With receivers Calvin Johnson and Ryan Broyles sitting out, Nate Burleson and Patrick Edwards failed to shore up Detroit's depth at the position. Burleson dropped an easy pass from starter Matthew Stafford, and also had one go off his hands that ended up an interception. Edwards dropped two passes, but did make up for it with an 8-yard TD catch from backup Shaun Hill to open the scoring.
BENTLEY AND SLAY: Backup cornerbacks Bill Bentley and rookie second-round pick Darius Slay had solid outings. Slay made a solid play in breaking up Leinart's pass up the left sideline intended for speedster Marquise Goodwin on the Bills' first play from scrimmage. Bentley had the Lions first interception, stepping in front of Leinart's pass over the middle to set up the game-opening TD.
O-LINE SET? Schwartz still isn't ready to name his starters at right guard and right tackle, but said he's encouraged by how the competition has gone. "When it's all said and done, the entire body of work is what we'll evaluate," Schwartz said. "We'll be fine at both those positions." Tackle Jake Scott, a free-agent addition, and rookie guard Larry Warford both started their second consecutive games.
And five things we know about the Bills:
OFF-LINE LEINART: Leinart's debut in Buffalo lasted a little more than a quarter. And that's left him worried whether his future with the quarterback-needy Bills will last past Saturday, when the team makes its final cuts. "It's disappointing," Leinart said. "I was thankful to be here, and we'll see what happens. Obviously, after that performance it can't be anything good I would think. But we'll see."
A THAD BETTER: While Leinart struggled, newly acquired quarterback Thaddeus Lewis had a comparatively better outing. Acquired Sunday in a trade with the Lions, Lewis finished 7 of 16 for 132 yards, including a 79-yard TD pass to Marcus Easley in the fourth quarter. Lewis also had seven carries for 51 yards.
NO DB DEPTH: With Byrd's status uncertain and starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore (broken wrist) to miss six to eight weeks, the Bills are lacking capable replacements. Cornerbacks Crezdon Butler and T.J. Heath, and rookie safety Duke Williams were burned several times on Thursday.
LOSING LEGURSKY: The Bills signed free agent Doug Legursky to compete for the starting job at left guard. That competition appears to be over after Legursky was carted off the field in the third quarter after sustaining what Marrone feared was a "major" injury.
FIRST-DOWN DROUGHT: When RB Tashard Choice scrambled off left tackle for 7 yards to convert a 2nd-and-7 on Buffalo's third possession, it ended a stretch of nine straight drives that ended with three-and-outs. The first-down drought dated to the second quarter of the Bills' 30-7 loss at Washington on Saturday.
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