With Andrew Luck getting a break, backup quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris teamed up in leading the Indianapolis Colts to a 19-18 preseason-opening win over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night.
The game wasn’t without its late dramatics. Bills rookie third-stringer Cardale Jones nearly pulled out a comeback victory in the final seconds.
Jones, who led Ohio State to the 2015 national championship, threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin as time expired.
But Jones failed to pull out the win by throwing an incompletion while attempting a 2-point conversion.
Tolzien, an offseason free-agent addition, shook off a slow start to produce two scoring drives in the first half. And then Morris, who was signed off Philadelphia’s practice squad in December, secured the win with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Chester Rogers with 10:42 remaining.
Backup tight end Chris Gragg put the Bills ahead 9-0 over a 4:20 span in the first quarter.
First he caused a safety by blocking Pat McAfee’s punt, which the punter swiped out of the end zone 6 1/2 minutes in. On Buffalo’s ensuing possession, Gragg caught a perfectly placed 19-yard fade pass from E.J. Manuel. Kicker Dan Carpenter hit a 37-yard field goal, but also missed a 53-yard attempt wide left in the fourth quarter.
The Colts finally got an opportunity to open the preseason a week after they were supposed to face Green Bay in the Hall of Fame game. That game was canceled because of an unplayable field.
Indianapolis had several reasons to not take any risks starting Luck. The field was slick after a pregame downpour. And there was also the prospect of the Colts revamped offensive line facing Rex Ryan’s attacking defense.
Before the game, Colts owner Jim Irsay sent two tweets saying the team was holding out Luck until they returned to Indianapolis to play back-to-back home games. In the second post, he mentioned the rain, while also noting ”my good friend Rex” isn’t known for letting up in the preseason.
The Colts are taking no chances after Luck missed the final seven games of last season with a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. And Irsay invested heavily in Luck by signing him to a six-year $140 million contract extension last month.
After the Colts offense managed 46 yards on their first six possessions, Tolzien hit Jordan Todman on a screen pass for a 42-yard touchdown. Tolzien then produced a five-play, 55-yard drive that ended with Adam Vinatieri hitting a 24-yard field goal to tie the game at 9 as the first half expired.
DE IK Enemkpali was carted off late in the first half with what coach Rex Ryan called a ”major knee injury.” Enemkpali hurt his right knee when his foot caught in the turf and he fell awkwardly while being blocked by Colts lineman Jonotthan Harrison.