ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Ahead of Denver's preseason matchup with the Bills, the Broncos knew they would face a challenge.
The Bills planned to play their starters, while the Broncos were set to keep their star players out of harm's way.
"That's the best evaluation you can possibly get," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said Thursday. "We want to see who can come out there and play vs. the best in the league. It's an unbelievable opportunity for those guys to step up and show what they can do."
The reality wasn't nearly as pleasant, as the Broncos fell behind early and eventually lost a 42-15 decision.
The Bills scored touchdowns on each of their first six possessions as they exerted control and raced out to a 42-9 lead.
"Obviously, the defense didn't play good enough," Hackett said after the loss. "The offense didn't play good enough, especially in the beginning. That's why we do this. We get to evaluate a lot of guys vs. a really good Bills football team."
Josh Allen played just one drive, but he completed all three of his passes and capped the possession by escaping pressure and firing a 28-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Davis. Reserve quarterback Case Keenum, who replaced Allen, found similar success. He led touchdown drives on all three of his first-half possessions and completed 16-of-18 passes for 192 yards, a touchdown and a 129.6 quarterback rating.
A week after allowing just one play of 20 yards or more against the Cowboys, the Denver defense gave up a series of big plays and let the Bills average more than eight yards per carry through the first three quarters.
The Broncos' struggles came, in part, from a series of missed tackles.
"You [give up] six touchdowns on six drives, obviously nobody did good," Hackett said. "So we have to evaluate the group as a whole and we've got to tackle better. We've got to hold the point [of attack] better, everything."
Though Denver's offense was unable to score a touchdown in the first half, Josh Johnson and Co.'s drive to begin the game was one of the lone bright spots. Working against the Bills' starting unit, the Broncos moved 64 yards in 12 plays and picked up four first downs before the drive stalled.
"I thought it was great," Hackett said of the first offensive drive. "Obviously I'm upset we didn't score a touchdown. I thought we had some opportunities to get those. Missed one [chance]. It was great to see on the first [drive], [Johnson] missed an opportunity, but he bounced right back and was able to get the ball down the field. That was good to see, and then after that, like we said, it wasn't very good after that."
Johnson finished 8-of-16 for 70 yards and a 62.0 quarterback rating.
During Brett Rypien's turn to lead the offense, he helped the Broncos score their lone touchdown of the game. Rypien found Albert Okwuegbunam and Trey Quinn for gains of 26 and 27 yards, respectively, before locating Eric Saubert in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown pass.
Rypien finished 22-of-26 for 191 yards, one touchdown and a 110.1 quarterback rating.
While the Broncos' defense struggled and offense was unable to often punch the ball into the end zone, Denver's special teams unit continued to show marked improvement. After an initial kick return of 20 yards, rookie Montrell Washington broke a tackle on his second attempt for a 35-yard gain.
The Broncos fell to 1-1 in the preseason with a home matchup with the Vikings waiting to close the slate.