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A goal for Bills starters against Bucs: score a TD

August 22, 2014

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills running back C.J. Spiller attempted to inject some levity into EJ Manuel’s post-practice news conference by asking the quarterback a question.

A smiling Spiller wondered earlier this week what the offense’s focus would be for Saturday’s exhibition game when the Bills (1-2) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2).

Manuel didn’t miss a beat.

“It’s an extremely important game for us, especially down in the red zone,” he said. “We haven’t scored a touchdown there yet.”

The second-year quarterback understands what’s at stake for this team, which opens at Chicago on Sept. 7.

“I think it’s definitely going to come,” Manuel said. “I think we will get that touchdown before I’m out.”

In 10 series, the Bills starters have combined for three field goals, and have turned the ball over on downs twice inside an opponent’s 5.

Many starters are expected to sit out Buffalo’s preseason finale against Detroit on Thursday. That puts an emphasis on Manuel to produce a touchdown against the Bucs in a game Buffalo’s starters are expected to play into the third quarter.

“That’s our job to put up points on the board. The frustration is there,” Spiller said. “It would be good to get in the end zone and get some momentum.”

The Bills are coming off a 19-16 loss at Pittsburgh in which the starters were limited to a field goal despite compiling 212 net yards offense and 12 first downs on five possessions — four of which ended inside the Steelers’ 40.

Buffalo’s offense has lacked finish no matter who’s at quarterback.

Of the Bills’ 20 drives that have reached an opponent’s 40, they’ve scored seven field goals and four touchdowns. The other nine ended with no points: four interceptions, three on downs and two missed field goals.

“Yeah, it’s a concern,” coach Doug Marrone said. “We have to do better.”

The Bills will get an opportunity to play in their newly renovated home for the first time this preseason. Ralph Wilson Stadium underwent $130 million in upgrades that included the additions of many fan-friendly amenities, such as larger concessions stands, a sports bar, wider concourses, a new stadium entry and two new video scoreboards.

Buffalo will be facing a Buccaneers team that went through an offseason overhaul, with Lovie Smith taking over as coach and Jason Licht as general manager. The changes resulted in a roster makeover for a team that went 4-12 last season and 11-21 in two years under former coach Greg Schiano.

Coming off a 20-14 loss to Miami last weekend, Smith has a simple objective heading into Buffalo.

“Improved play,” he said. “When you come in as a new staff, we can’t set a whole lot of lofty goals. Based on what? We’re starting from scratch right now.”

Tampa Bay is counting on journeyman quarterback Josh McCown and receiver Mike Evans, a first-round pick, to spark an offense that finished 30th in scoring and 32nd in yards passing last year.

“I think just take a step, get better and improve,” said McCown, who is a combined 7 of 11 for 66 yards passing with a touchdown and interception this preseason. “You’ve got to show some improvement and feel like you’re gaining some ground.”

A featured rookie receiver matchup between Evans, drafted seventh overall, and Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins, drafted fourth, isn’t expected to materialize. Watkins hasn’t been cleared to play after bruising his ribs against Pittsburgh.


AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this story.


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