With no Adrian Peterson to worry about, Jerry Hughes and the Buffalo Bills’ defense thoroughly stymied Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings in 20-16 preseason victory Friday night.
Hughes had two sacks and forced a fumble, and backup linebacker Jamie Blatnick recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Hughes was starting in place of defensive end Mario Williams, who was held out after complaining of soreness following practice Wednesday.
Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel then took over in the second half to seal the win in continuing to inch his way toward securing the starting job after veteran Kevin Kolb struggled in the first half. Greeted by cheers as he took the field, Manuel hit all six attempts, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith, to cap a 14-play, 80-yard second-half opening drive.
The first-round draft pick out of Florida State was 10 of 12 for 92 yards in three series.
The Bills improved to 2-0 in the preseason under new coach Doug Marrone, following a 44-20 win at Indianapolis on Sunday. They’ve combined to score 62 points in two games, which is five more than they managed in four preseason games last year under Chan Gailey.
The Vikings (0-2) again sputtered on offense without their top threat, Peterson, who continues to be rested through the preseason.
Starter Christian Ponder went 5 of 12 for 53 yards passing through five series. Backup Matt Cassel wasn’t much better in a first half in which the Vikings combined for 74 yards of offense and four first downs.
Cassel finished 4 of 8 for 29 yards passing over four series spanning halftime.
The Vikings made the score respectable with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter behind third-string quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Running back Joe Banyard scored on a 1-yard plunge, and Bethel-Thompson hit Rodney Smith with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 4:36 left.
The Vikings’ quarterbacks weren’t the only ones struggling in the first half. With Minnesota facing third-and-7 on its own 23, backup center Joe Berger’s snap sailed a couple of feet over Cassel’s head and rolled into the end zone. Cassel missed in his bid to fall on the ball, and it was recovered by Blatnick just inside the end line.
It was a play that highlighted the Bills new-look defense under new coordinator Mike Pettine.
The Bills brought pressure from the first snap, when Hughes burst past left tackle Matt Kalil and sacked Ponder for a 7-yard loss.
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus also had a sack.
This wasn’t the type of performance Ponder and the Vikings were looking for.
Ponder struggled in a brief cameo in a 27-13 loss to Houston on Aug. 9. After completing a 15-yard pass, his day ended with an interception.
Ponder expected more out of himself and the offense this week, when he said: “These next two games are crucial for us as an offense and for everybody because we’re going to get a lot of snaps.”
The Vikings travel to play San Francisco on Aug. 25.
It was a poor outing for Kolb, as well. The seventh-year player was making his preseason debut after returning to practice this week. Kolb had missed eight days after twisting his left knee while slipping on a wet rubber mat in practice Aug. 3.
Though Kolb’s knee looked fine, his accuracy was off. He went 10 of 17 for 66 yards and an interception on his first six possessions. He then hit three of four passes for 45 yards in the final 38 seconds of the first half on a drive that ended with Dustin Hopkins 35-yard field goal that put Buffalo ahead 13-3.
Kolb was booed several times after incompletions.
Hopkins hit field goals from 39 and 35 yards in the first half.
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh hit a 36-yarder, and also missed wide right from 49 yards in the first quarter.
Bills backup receiver Kevin Elliott was carted off the field during the first half after it appeared he hurt his leg.