According to Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott, the benefits of finally giving his starters some action in the final game of the preseason were on display early and often against the Green Bay Packers.
And it had nothing to do with quarterback Josh Allen looking so sharp, or wide receiver Gabriel Davis looking so fast and effective, or the defense pitching a shutout with the help of an interception and three fourth-down stops on the way to a 19-0 win.
No, it was about the slop they needed to get out of their system.
"I thought we did show some rust at times," McDermott said. "We were sloppy in some situations there and we beat ourselves in certain situations as well."
The Bills open against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had already given their regulars plenty of preseason work, so the decision on Saturday made sense in terms of making sure everyone was at least knocked around a little before everything starts happening for real.
As for Allen, he was hit harder on many passes he was able to get off than on the one sack he did absorb, when he stumbled to the ground on a play in which his escape routes were sealed off.
"Yeah, it felt good, obviously, getting out there and feeling real-life reps and live bullets flying at you," Allens said. "It's preseason, so we're not going to overreact to anything, but we went out there and we had two [TD drives], like we should have. At the end of the day, that's all you can ask for."
Allen was especially happy to get the opportunity to bomb a 31-yard TD throw down the middle to Davis to cap the 12-play opening drive.
"We we hadn't thrown that ball at all," Allen said. "We'd never gotten that rep because we just never got that look. So to be able to get a look like that and throw it and get a rep that counts, that's going to stay in the memory bank. But again, it's just one of those things where it's just added reps, it's knowledge to the memory bank there, and I appreciate those reps."
Saturday also gave veteran newcomer Emmanuel Sanders his first preseason game experience of the summer. He couldn't have been more grateful.
"Man, it was fun," Sanders said. "Practices don't do it justice, truthfullty. I mean, it was up-tempo, no-huddle, slinging the ball around. You know, it was fun. We were supposed to play a half, but I looked at [wide receiver] Stef [Diggs], I said, `man, I don't want to come out,' because I was just now getting in my groove and kind of finding it out."
Allen's first five plays were pass attempts completed to a different receiver each time. First, it was running back Devin Singletary, then wide receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, then tight end Dawson Knox.
Sanders finally was targeted on the fifth pass, which he turned into a 6-yard gain for a first down.
"It was just like, `bing, bing, bing, bing,' " Sanders said. "I was like, `when is it my turn?' And next thing you know, it's my turn. And ... I caught it. And, you know, it was fun."
Allen tried to hit Sanders deep on the second series, but they couldn't connect. No matter. Sanders finished with four catches and would be one of 13 Bills to catch a pass in an offense that gives Allen all kinds of options.
The quarterback took off down the field on just one scramble in this game. But it was an important one. He gained 4 yards on fourth-and-2 — after essentially taking command and ordering the punt team to return to the sideline.
Three plays later, Allen was again flushed out of the pocket, but this time he scrambled to his left before floating an incredibly difficult throw across his body to Beasley. That set up a 3-yard TD pass to running back Zack Moss three plays later.
So for the Bills, it was the best of both worlds. It left the starters with a good taste in their mouths while also proving they have a long way to go to reach their peak.
Some excruciating roster decisions now loom. But the Bills wouldn't trade their position coming out of the preseason with anyone.