Bills 20, Vikings 16: Ponder on the Run, Off the Mark
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- If the Vikings were hoping to see Christian Ponder assert himself with his new receiving corps Friday night against the Buffalo Bills, they didn't exactly get their wish.
Ponder was on the run and off the mark in five series with the first-team offense, completing 5 of 12 passes for 53 yards, getting sacked twice and tackled for a loss when John Sullivan's shotgun snap got by him.
He led a 12-play, 62-yard drive that led to Blair Walsh's 36-yard field goal, but the Vikings did not record a first down in his other four series.
The Bills took a 10-point lead at halftime, stretched it to 17 by the fourth quarter and cruised home for a 20-16 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium, dropping the Vikings to 0-2 in the preseason.
They travel to San Francisco next Sunday night and likely will play their starters for at least the first half of a nationally televised exhibition contest against the 49ers.
Facing the reigning NFC champions, the Vikings will have to hope for more from Ponder.
At times Friday, the quarterback appeared to handle pressure better than he did last season, sidestepping a rush to find tight end Kyle Rudolph for 11 yards on the Vikings' scoring drive. He also drew the Bills offside twice with hard counts.
But the Vikings' offensive line struggled to pick up Buffalo's pass rushers, and on his final play, Ponder stepped outside of Matt Asiata's chip block and into the grasp of Bills defensive end Alex Carrington as he threw incomplete to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Things weren't much better for backup quarterback Matt Cassel.
Joe Berger's shotgun snap got by him and led to a Bills touchdown as Jamie Blatnick recovered it in the end zone. Cassel finished the night 4 of 8 for 29 yards, and was sacked once after Jerry Hughes -- who took Ponder down on the Vikings' first play -- blew past Jeff Baca.
Defensively, the Vikings held the Bills' starting offense to two field goals after a pair of red-zone stops, and created a turnover when cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- playing his first NFL game -- deflected Kevin Kolb's back-shoulder throw to Jamarca Sanford for an interception. Buffalo posted 200 yards in the first half, though, and Kolb wasn't sacked.
He was followed by rookie EJ Manuel, who ran the no-huddle offense with precision, completing 10 of his 12 throws for 92 yards and a touchdown as the Bills' tempo left the Vikings' nickel defense on the field for much of the scoring drive.
Linebacker Desmond Bishop -- playing his first game since tearing his hamstring in the Green Bay Packers' first preseason game last year -- was looking at Manuel in the Bills' backfield when Brad Smith slipped behind him and caught Manuel's scoring pass in the corner of the end zone.
Bishop, who missed the Vikings' first preseason game because of a groin injury, did record a half-sack after he blew up a blocker with his left shoulder and met safety Andrew Sendejo to take down Manuel.
The Vikings' two touchdown drives came in the fourth quarter, with third-string quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson running things. On the first scoring drive, they ran on seven of their 11 plays and got a 38-yard gain from running back Joe Banyard. The Texas-El Paso product finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown when he leaped over the goal line on fourth down.
Then, Bethel-Thompson showed off his arm with a 36-yard throw from his back foot that Rodney Smith caught for a touchdown. The shot, which was somewhat reminiscent of the last quarterback to wear No. 4 for the Vikings, pulled them within four before Bethel-Thompson was intercepted on the two-point conversion attempt.
The Vikings got the ball back with less than two minutes left, but Bethel-Thompson's attempt to engineer a late comeback ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down.