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Kicking Bass: Bills Special Teams Get a Leg Up in Preseason

The Bills' kicking group was special in more ways than one on Saturday.

The Buffalo Bills mostly spared their marquee names from their 2022 preseason opener but they still managed to get a leg up on their competition from Indianapolis. 

Though the Bills' offensive backups mostly struggled against the Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo managed to stay on the board and pace themselves to a 27-24 victory in their first unofficial contest of 2022 thanks to the efforts of their specialists. The usual suspect, namely kicker Tyler Bass, did his part with the game-winning tally from 46 yards out but several others rose to the occasion by flipping the field position battle for a struggling offense. 

Literal divine intervention was part of the showcase, as rookie punter Matt "Punt God" Araiza became an instant folk hero in Western New York with an 82-yard punt just before the half, preventing the Colts an opportunity to build on a 10-7 lead. That kick would've tied former Bill Corey Bojorquez, now of Cleveland, for the longest punt of the 2021 season, which he earned with Green Bay. 

Even with the sixth-round pick's bomb, the Buffalo punting battle feels far from over: what incumbent Matt Haack lacked in distance he made up for in field position, as his 38-yarder captured Indianapolis at its own 12. 

Each candidate was enough to impress Bass, whose third season as the Bills' kicker is all but assured.

"I thought each punter when they went out for punt, they had a certain job and a certain situation to handle, and they both handled it excellent," Bass told the Bills' official team site. "Matt Haack did a good job pinning them deep and Araiza did a great job of flipping the field. So, I think they both did a really good job for the first game."

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Bass did have another compliment for Araiza, who served as his holder on all three of his Saturday attempts, including an extra point and the aforementioned game-winner. 

"I think he did great," Bass said of Araiza's other duties. "I think (he) and I both agree, we still have growing to do. But I think for the first time getting out there, he handled himself really well. He was very calm, collected, and I trust him 100 percent."

The Bills' return game seems relatively secure with Isaiah McKenzie in tow (as does fellow returner and second-round James Cook), Duke Johnson and Raheem Blackshear each made cases to stay amongst the crowd running backs' room with strong showings of their own. Haack's punt was preceded by Johnson's 43 kick return that put the Bills at the cusp of midfield. Alongside Blackshear and Cook, Buffalo returners averaged 22.4 yards on five attempts. 

Blackshear's big day, already featuring two scores on the ground, was partly marred by both a late injury and the fact that another return, this one of 34 yards, was wiped out by a holding penalty. But his 16-yard return on a punt that originated from the Indianapolis 18 set up the Bills' tying score that he himself punched in from three yards away. 

Though Blackshear faces an uphill battle to make the roster as an undrafted rookie, it was enough for head coach Sean McDermott to label him "different", per WHEC-TV

The Buffalo specialists will have another opportunity to impress this weekend, as they'll face the Denver Broncos on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, WIVB/WROC).