Could we just pump the brakes a bit on celebrating the Bills’ 19-0 victory over the Packers Saturday afternoon at Highmark Stadium in the preseason finale?
To be sure, this was a matchup of teams that were a conference championship game win away from making it to the Super Bowl last January.
But that hardly translated to this “exhibition” season as Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur announced even before it began that he intended to play virtually none of his starters.
Sure enough, against Buffalo, he didn’t suit up 31 of his 80-player roster and only two of his 22 starters saw action, none from the defense.
In short, the impressive performance put on by the Bills’ offense, particularly quarterback Josh Allen, was accomplished against the Packers’ second- and third-string.
That’s not pointed out to diminish Buffalo’s performance, but rather to offer some perspective.
The Bills have now won eight straight preseason games, going unbeaten the last two years they were held – there were none last season – and Buffalo shouldn’t have to answer for who Green Bay opted not to play.
Coach Sean McDermott used the game to help make some difficult roster decisions and expose his players to different situational scenarios before the season opener Sept. 12 against the Steelers in Orchard Park..
AND FOR the Buffalo faithful who enjoyed last season’s offensive explosion, Saturday indicated nothing is likely to change, at least in philosophy, as long as Allen is quarterback.
Keep in mind, 2020 was a year of offensive records for the Bills: most points (501), touchdowns (60), passing TDs (40), completions (401), net yardage (6,343), passing yardage (4,620), first downs (397) and passing first downs (240).
The 13-3 regular-season record tied the team mark set in 1990 and its six straight wins to end the campaign were the most in franchise history.
Against the Packers, Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll showed no signs of deviating from last season’s approach.
He called 12 straight passes to open the game, the first nine of them completions, the initial five to different receivers. The streak was interrupted only by an incompletion and a sack and ended with a perfect 31-yard scoring connection with wideout Gabriel Davis on 3rd-and-20.
While Allen was in, Daboll called 28 passes in 33 plays, and his fourth-year QB hit 20-of-26 throws, the other two pass calls ending in a scramble and a sack.
And that was accomplished without his top receiver, Stefon Diggs, who sat the game out to rest his tender knee.
His absence, though, gave both Davis – five catches in as many targets – and veteran free agent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders – four receptions – a chance to shine.
BUFFALO’S defense, filled with starters, seemed vulnerable to Green Bay’s reserves on the opening possession as they surrendered 74 yards on 12 plays, before toughening at their own 1-yard line.
Among the Bills’ defensive reserves, there were two standouts: backup nickel cornerback Siran Neal – starter Taron Johnson (hand) didn’t play – had six tackles playing only the first half, all solos, a game high, and defensive tackle Justin Zimmer added five stops plus one of Buffalo’s two sacks.
Neal is safe come Tuesday’s cut to the regular-season roster limit of 53, but Zimmer is in a talented group of seven at his position, where only five tackles are likely to be kept though injured Harrison Phillips (knee) and Brandon Bryant (concussion) might change the dynamic at that position.
Besides Diggs and Johnson, 12 others Bills were held out due to injury, including wide receivers Isaiah Hodgins (knee) and Isaiah McKenzie (shoulder), running backs Antonio Williams (neck) and Christian Wade (shoulder), cornerbacks Levi Wallace (hip) and Dane Jackson (stinger), safety Jaquan Johnson (knee), long-snapper Reid Ferguson (back), Phillips and Bryant, offensive tackle Spencer Brown (knee) and tight end Tommy Sweeney (foot).
Of that dozen, Wallace, Jackson, Brown, McKenzie, Jaquan Johnson and Ferguson would appear to be roster locks; the other six …
That’s why Tuesday’s reduction by 27 players, either by trade or via waiver wire, will be so fascinating. So will the following day when teams can form their 16-player practice squads, which will likely be more punitive for Buffalo, which has an admitted surplus of talented depth.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)