TORONTO – It took four plays for rookie first-round draft pick C.J. Spiller to begin delivering on his dynamic billing, as the running back sparked the Buffalo Bills in a 34-21 preseason victory over Indianapolis on Thursday.
Starting in place of injured veterans Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, Spiller opened the scoring on a powerful 31-yard run 3 minutes in. Drafted ninth overall out of Clemson, Spiller finished with 10 carries on 54 yards.
The Bills offense followed suit. Shaking off an inconsistent debut in last week's 42-17 loss at Washington, quarterback Trent Edwards produced two scoring drives in five series, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans to put Buffalo up 21-14. Furthering his bid to reclaim the starting job he lost midway through last season, Edwards went 5 for 8 for 93 yards and the Bills (1-1) never trailed.
The 14 points scored by Buffalo's first-stringers more than doubled the two field goals they had managed in their previous six preseason games, dating to last year.
Rian Lindell hit a 24-yard with 22 seconds left in the first half to put Buffalo ahead for good, 24-21.
Peyton Manning and the high-powered Colts (0-2) didn't disappoint in what proved to be a wide-open and entertaining first half in the fourth installment of Buffalo's five-year, eight-game series in Toronto.
After opening with a three-and-out, Manning engineered two scoring drives on the next four series, including a perfectly placed 21-yard touchdown pass over the middle to tight end Jacob Tamme on a third-and-9. Joseph Addai also scored on a 17-yard run.
Manning went 8 for 15 for 91 yards, with an interception that was returned 78 yards for a touchdown by Terrence McGee. Manning was attempting to squeeze a pass into Anthony Gonzalez when defender Drayton Florence got his hand in, deflecting the ball directly to McGee, who ran it back untouched up the left sideline.
The biggest disappointment was an announced crowd of 39,583 — well over 14,000 below capacity. That's considered the latest blow for Rogers Communication, which has been under heavy criticism in the Toronto media this week for paying the Bills $78 million two years ago for the right to host the series, which runs through 2012.
Neither of the first three games of the series fully sold out the 54,000-seat facility.
Spiller provided the early highlight by capping a four-play drive on Buffalo's opening possession. Spiller shed defensive end Robert Mathis in the backfield and then cut left across the middle, where he broke Jacob Lacey's arm tackle. He then cut up the left sideline where a shifty move allowed him to get by Antoine Bethea and into the end zone.
"I just cut back, made a guy miss," Spiller said. "It felt good to get in there."
Spiller credited the offensive line, which returned three starters who missed last week's game: tackles Demetrius Bell and Cornell Green and guard Eric Wood.
"It starts with our running game," Edwards said. "If C.J. can pound out yards, move the ball and the chains, it helps scoring touchdowns."
Initially supposed to be eased into this preseason, Spiller will get a bulk of the action after Jackson (broken hand) and Lynch (sprained ankle) were both hurt in last week's 42-17 loss at Washington. Jackson is expected to miss at least the next three weeks, while Lynch is considered week to week.
The crowd that did show proved lively, but it's unclear how many paid full price for their tickets, which ranged from $75 to $275. About 15 minutes before the game, a group of three fans purchased lower bowl tickets, originally priced at $275, for half price from a scalper.
And it was a mixed group of fans in attendance, with a number of them wearing Colts jerseys. The Bills did have the larger contingent, and attracted several loud and extended cheers throughout much of the first half. A wave even made its way around the upper bowl in the fourth quarter.
Colts backup quarterback Curtis Painter had an encouraging outing after he was booed off the field while throwing three interceptions in a 37-17 loss to San Francisco on Sunday. On his second series, Painter drove the Colts 81 yards on two plays for a touchdown. After hitting Taj Smith for a 38-yard pass, Painter went back to Smith for a 43-yard touchdown pass.
Bills rookie running Joique Bell capped the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left.