By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
INDIANAPOLIS — Jeff Tuel has a memory for a lifetime.
The Buffalo Bills' rookie third-string quarterback completed an astounding 19 of 23 pass attempts for 212 yards and two touchdowns, helping the visitors blast away from the Indianapolis Colts in the second half and win Sunday's preseason opener 44-20 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"Obviously, everybody top to bottom is disappointed," head coach Chuck Pagano said. "Never envisioned (getting) blown out in the football game and having the outcome that we had. Like I told the guys, it's never as bad as you think it is, and it's never as good as you think it is. Somewhere in between is where reality lies."
Reality for Tuel was a heroic second half that helped break open a game the Colts led for much of the first.
Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck played just two series, going 4-of-6 for 51 yards and leaving with the game tied 3-3. His longest completion went for 23 yards to Coby Fleener, but the drive ended moments later when the second-year tight end fumbled at the Bills' 24-yard line.
Luck got lit up on a sack by Buffalo's Mario Williams when the defensive end came unblocked around left tackle Anthony Castonzo. But the second-year quarterback took all of the blame for that mishap.
He said the problem was with his cadence, not his protection.
"Castonzo's (angry) with me," Luck said. "He said, 'Do you want to get hurt?' I publicly take that one."
Second-year running back Vick Ballard looked strong in limited duty with three carries for 18 yards, and second-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was the Colts' star of the day, with three catches for 61 yards.
He and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck gave Indianapolis the lead on the final play of the first quarter when they hooked up for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
Adam Vinatieri added a 44-yard field goal early in the second quarter — pairing it with a 25-yarder in the first quarter — and the Colts led 13-6. From there, it was all downhill for the home team.
Buffalo tied the game on a 107-yard kickoff return by rookie Marquise Goodwin and took the lead when rookie E.J. Manuel threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dorin Dickerson to cap a 10-play, 92-yard drive just before the end of the first half.
Tuel added to the lead with the first of his scoring passes — a 6-yarder to rookie Da'Rick Rogers on the first series of the third quarter — and threw a 5-yard touchdown to wide receiver Brandon Kaufman in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo also got 24- and 23-yard field goals from Dustin Hopkins in the first half and a 30-yarder by Rian Lindell in the second. The Bills capped the scoring with a 17-yard interception return by Jumal Rolle with 5:01 remaining.
Indianapolis' only score of the second half came on a 72-yard fumble return by rookie cornerback Daxton Swanson. The play was set up by a sack from linebacker Caesar Rayford that caused Tuel to fumble, one of two turnovers forced by the Colts' defense Sunday.
The Colts had 17 players on the inactive list, including defensive starters Jerrell Freeman, LaRon Landry and Pat Angerer and rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner. Four more players left the game with injuries — linebacker Justin Hickman, cornerback Cassius Vaughn, rookie defensive tackle Montori Hughes and linebacker Quinton Spears.
Second-year tight end Dwayne Allen did not play after injuring his foot during a training camp practice Tuesday night at Anderson University. Pagano said he likely will miss a few weeks, but the team hopes to have him ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against the Oakland Raiders.
Indianapolis (0-1) travels to New York to meet the Giants in their second preseason game next Sunday.
"We'll go back to work," Pagano said. "Everybody is accountable, top to bottom. We'll take a look at the film, and we'll go back to work. Get back up to Anderson and get things fixed. Come back and put this one behind us. We obviously got to play better, and we will play better."