O’HARA: Four players who made a statement in Buffalo

Posted Aug 28, 2014

The “next man up” mantra of the National Football League was stretched to the limit in the Lions’ last preseason game.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The “next man up” mantra of the National Football League was stretched to the limit in the Lions’ last preseason game.

It wasn’t because replacements were plugged into starting roles because of injuries, though.

Coach Jim Caldwell held out 13 players in the final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium Thursday night. Eleven of them were starters.

There is no fault here with Caldwell’s decision to save the likes of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh for the regular season. They weren't needed in what became a 23-0 victory over an awful Bills team.

If I were head coach, I would have doubled the number of players who weren’t allowed to get within 15 yards of the playing field. That would be 26 players and all 22 starters on offense and defense combined.

What the heck. Throw in the kicker, punter and long-snapper and any other player you want to make it an even 30.

Beating the Bills as thoroughly as the Lions did was a nice way to end the preseason. It gave the Lions a 3-1 record.

And if anyone felt even a tiny sizzle of revenge for moving the ball against a Bills defense led by Jim Schwartz, who was fired in January after five seasons as head coach of the Lions, then they’re allowed to enjoy that for what it’s worth. To be honest, it isn’t much.

In my mind, winning is always better than losing, as long the circumstances are kept in perspective. And the perspective on beating the Bills is the reality that the Lions would be better off going 1-3 than 3-1 in the preseason if they beat the Giants in the regular-season opener at Ford Field a week from Monday night.

However, regardless of who sat and played, performance counts. Here are takeaways on four Lions players – and there were more -- who made a statement of some kind Thursday night to enhance their status:

Kellen Moore: Don’t call this a quarterback controversy, and it might not even be a quarterback question, but if the No. 2 job behind starter Matthew Stafford was an open competition between Dan Orlovsky and Moore, Moore made a bid to grab it.

In the first two games Moore had two TD passes against an interception and a 78.3 percent completion rate. Against the Bills, he threw a pair of TD passes in the second quarter.

That doesn’t mean Moore has jumped ahead of Orlovsky, who is known in the league as a respected team-oriented player. But after spending two seasons as the No. 3 quarterback and not being active for a regular-season game, Moore looked like a competent backup – at least.

George Johnson: He continued to impress as a speed-rushing defensive end. He had two tackles, three quarterback hits, one solo sack and an assist on another.

Sometimes a player lands in the right system, and after shreds of playing time the last three seasons with Tampa Bay and Minnesota, Johnson might be due for a bigger role in Detroit.

Nate FreeseK Nate Freese (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Nate Freese: The rookie kicker may never face the kind of pressure he’s been under the last three weeks.

He beat out Giorgio Tavecchio to win the job, and he didn’t do it by default. It was a tight competition. Freese made a 55-yard field goal in Game 2 at Oakland, and the circumstances were less than ideal. Freese kicked off the dirt infield and into the wind at Oakland’s stadium.

Thursday night, he connected twice from 53 yards. If Caldwell was undecided about whether Freese had won the job – and Caldwell never indicated that was the case – any doubt was erased with the two long kicks.

Corey Fuller: No Lion from the 2013 draft class has made more improvement than Fuller. Of course, the sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech had further to go. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad and looked like a non factor.

It was a different story this year. Fuller made the game-winning catch in preseason Game 1 against Cleveland, and he made a nice move to make a 25-yard TD catch in the end zone against the Bills.

Fuller could be headed for the practice squad again because of depth at wide receiver, but if that’s the case, he’ll go knowing he has a future of making the active roster.