ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills lost more than their preseason finale Thursday night, when rookie receiver Sammy Watkins did not return after aggravating a rib injury.
The Detroit Lions, on the other hand, have several big decisions to make before establishing their 53-player regular-season roster following a 23-0 win over the Bills.
With time running out in the first half and perhaps their tenure in Detroit, third-string quarterback Kellen Moore and backup receiver Corey Fuller made one last case to show they deserve to make the final cut before Saturday.
Moore found time in the pocket to hit Fuller on a perfectly placed 25-yard touchdown pass over the middle with 9 seconds left in the second quarter to put the Lions ahead 17-0.
“It was a great ball, just needled it right through and I just had to run underneath it,” said Fuller of his second touchdown this preseason. “It was just another chance to be in the end zone to show the team here and to show other teams what I can do.”
Fuller, part of a multi-receiver competition for one of the team’s final spots, finished with a team-best 43 yards receiving in helping the Lions finish the preseason at 3-1.
Moore finished 17 of 28 for 172 yards and two touchdowns and is attempting to hang behind backup Dan Orlovsky.
There are deeper concerns in Buffalo (1-4).
The Bills produced another dud on offense during a three-drive cameo appearance. They also watched Watkins, their most dynamic threat, leave a game with bruised ribs for the second time in three weeks.
Marrone declined to provide an update on the severity of the injury. And he defended his decision to play Watkins, who sat out a 27-14 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday after he hurt his ribs a week earlier at Pittsburgh.
“One of the big questions was the quarterback and Sammy. They haven’t played a lot of games,” Marrone said. “I always get concerned when people come out, especially when you’re a rookie. You’ve got to play.”
Watkins, however, isn’t just a normal rookie after the Bills invested heavily to land him in the draft. Buffalo traded its 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland to move up five spots and select the Clemson product with the fourth pick.
Watkins was hurt on Buffalo’s second possession, when he cut in from the right side on a slant pattern. Quarterback EJ Manuel never looked Watkins off and was a little late on the throw. Watkins reached out to knock down the ball, when he was hit by linebacker Ashlee Palmer.
“It was a tight throw, and he probably just got a little banged up,” Manuel said. “He’ll be fine.”
Manuel went 3 of 7 for 56 yards and was sacked twice.
Jordan Palmer unraveled in his debut for Buffalo. He went 9 of 22 for 73 yards passing and three interceptions two days after being signed to compete for a backup spot.
First-year Lions coach Jim Caldwell took few risks by resting most of his starters, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
And the Lions still won.
Jeremy Ross scored on a 1-yard touchdown catch, and seventh-round pick Nate Freese hit all three field-goal attempts, including two 53-yarders.
The Lions’ defense continued its postseason string of first-half domination. Detroit gave up 97 yards net offense, had four sacks and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus’ interception of Palmer’s pass set up the first touchdown in the opening 30 minutes. The Lions finished the postseason allowing just six points in the first quarter and 22 in the first half.
“Any time you can keep a team in the National Football League off the scoreboard, it’s a pretty good night for your defense,” Caldwell said. “We still have some work to do, but overall, I thought it was a decent performance.”
NOTES: The Bills’ first-string offense finished the preseason combining for two touchdowns and three field goals on 23 possessions. ... Caldwell revealed that rookie LB Kyle Van Noy’s status is uncertain after he had surgery this week to address what has been called an injury to his abdomen. ... Marrone revealed he rested several players due to injuries, including DBs Stephon Gilmore (groin) and Corey Graham (ankle) and TE Scott Chandler (knee).