ORCHARD PARK – Winning and losing in the NFL preseason really doesn't matter at all.
Unless you lose a player to injury, and the Buffalo Bills did in Thursday night's practice-season finale.
Rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins re-injured his ribs on the second series against the Detroit Lions and his playing status for the Sept. 7 season opener at the Chicago Bears is unknown.
Coach Doug Marrone wasn't speculating on whether Watkins could miss game action but quarterback EJ Manuel said "he probably just got a little banged up. He'll be fine."
The game was the fifth and final preseason affair for the Bills, and they flopped, losing 23-0 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. They went 1-4 in NFL practice games.
The last preseason game — especially a fifth game, since the Bills also played in the Hall of Fame game — usually doesn't feature starting units. The Lions didn't even have 11 starters in uniform, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Reggie Bush, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
But because his offensehasn't clicked and because several players haven't had much game time together, Marrone wanted his key players on the field in the first quarter. Watkins, just coming back from a rib injury that forced him to miss last week's game against Tampa Bay, lasted only nine plays.
"Once the trainers cleared him to play, I was excited," Marrone said. "He hadn't really played since the first quarter against Pittsburgh and he didn't play that much before that because we were planning on playing him a lot later (toward the end of the preseason)."
On second down on the second offensive series, Watkins lined up on the left side and ran a slant in toward the hash mark. The pass from Manuel could not be caught and, as the ball hit the turf, linebacker Ashlee Palmer blasted Watkins with a legal hit.
It appeared that Palmer's right elbow hit Watkins directly in the ribs.
Watkins never left his feet and it appeared as though he wanted to remain in the game. However, the medical staff was waved onto the field, play was stopped and he walked to the sideline.
After an examination on the Bills bench, Watkins was led to the dressing room. Since rib injuries are fickle and often can only heal with rest, there were no guesses on whether Watkins would miss time.
"You never know," Marrone said. "X-rays, tests, things like that; shows up one day, doesn't show up the next. Could be out, could be in. I just don't want to get into it because you just never know."
Photos: Bills lose to Lions in preseason opener
With Watkins, the Bills offense moved the ball on its first possession, picking up a pair of first downs — a 16-yard pass to Robert Woods and a 20-yard catch and run by Fred Jackson — before the drive stalled at their own 48 and they punted.
On the second play of their second possession, Watkins was hurt running the slant.
Manuel played the first three series, covering the entire first quarter. He was 3-for-7 for 56 yards but was sacked twice and missed at least one wide-open receiver on a medium-range throw.
There were two dropped balls, though not necessarily all on the receiver.
"Nonetheless, I went to the right place with the ball," Manuel said. "Coming off the field talking to coach (Nathaniel) Hackett, coach (Todd) Downing (the QB coach), they told me I did a good job, so I was happy with that."
Newcomer Jordan Palmer took over at quarterback to start the second quarter and accomplished virtually nothing.
Palmer was signed earlier in the week after he was cut by the Chicago Bears. He completed just 9 of 22 passes for 73 yards and threw three interceptions.
Of course, Palmer had practiced just one time with the Bills, and also had a game-preparation walk-through.
"It's difficult but the coaches put me in this situation because they thought I was ready and I did, too," Palmer said. "I wasn't panicky, I wasn't confused."
What makes working a new quarterback into the lineup is that it may hurt the other 10 offensive players on the field who are competing for jobs. Marrone admitted that "the reality of the situation is, that probably occurs."
The Lions scored 17 points in the second quarter. Nate Freese kicked a 53-yard field goal 52 seconds into the quarter, Kellen Moore threw a 1-yard TD pass to Jeremy Ross 5:55 before halftime, then Moore threw a 25-yard strike down the middle to a sliding Corey Fuller with :09 left before the break.