C.J. Spiller eased the Buffalo Bills' concerns about their run game Thursday night.
The rookie rushed for 54 yards and a TD in his first NFL start as Buffalo earned a 34-21 exhibition win over the Indianapolis Colts before just 39,583 spectators at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
"We have a real good running back and it's a joy to hand the ball off to him," Bills starting quarterback Trent Edwards said. "He's a very impressive player and we have to make sure he stays healthy."
Spiller, selected ninth overall in this year's NFL draft, quickly calmed the Bills' fears with veterans Fred Jackson (hand) and Marshawn Lynch (ankle) both expected to miss the remainder of the pre-season. The former Clemson star opened the scoring with a sparkling 31-yard run at 2:40 of the first quarter.
"He did an unbelievable run on that touchdown," Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. "He picked up a couple [of blocks] on pass protecting and obviously he can run."
A modest Spiller said his TD run was a team effort.
"I just read my keys and the offensive line did a great job of holding them," Spiller said. "I just cut back, made a guy miss and it felt good to get in there."
Buffalo improved to 1-1 while Indianapolis fell to 0-2.
The game was the fourth of eight Buffalo will play in Toronto through 2012, with the club hosting Chicago in a regular-season contest in November. The victory was the Bills' second at their home away from home, the other being an exhibition victory over Pittsburgh in 2008.
But once again the story was the attendance.
Not even the presence of such stars as Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Reggie Wayne as well as Spiller could deflect attention from the many patches of empty seats. The attendance was the lowest of the four games played here thus far and well short of Rogers Centre's 54,000-seat capacity for football.
Bills in Toronto a tough sell
That's yet another disappointment to the Toronto-based group that secured the games — dubbed Bills Toronto Series — hoping to showcase the city as a viable home for a full-time NFL franchise. The expectation when the series was unveiled was southern Ontario football fans would flock to Rogers Centre to watch Buffalo, regardless of the price.
But that's not been the case as the combination of high ticket prices and bad Bills teams have combined to make this series a tough sell.
Fans complained about ticket prices two years ago, forcing event organizers, who are paying the Bills an average of $9.75 million per game, to slash prices by an average of 17 per cent. They also offered more than 11,000 tickets for less than $99 compared with just 4,700 for that price.
An hour before kickoff, there was little buzz outside Rogers Centre. There were fans walking around wearing various NFL jerseys but very few lines at the ticket booths. One attendant said there were still plenty of decent seats available ranging from $275 to $75.
Just down the street, a scalper was willing to unload tickets ranging from $150 to $275 for half price.
Those in attendance saw a high-scoring first half as Buffalo took a 24-21 half-time lead on Rian Lindell's 24-yard field goal at 14:38 of the second quarter.
After Spiller's touchdown, the Colts tied it on Joseph Addai's 17-yard run at 5:40. But the lead was short-lived as Terrence McGee's 78-yard interception return put the Bills back ahead 14-7.
"Drayton Florence tipped the ball and I was in the right spot at the right time," McGee said. "At first, I thought someone was going to tackle me so I just took off.
"My team did the blocking and got me to the end zone."
Manning's 21-yard TD toss to Jacob Tamme at 13:27 pulled Indy even again before Edwards found a streaking Lee Evans 70 yards for the touchdown at 14:19.
Colts backup Curtis Painter then hit Taj Smith on a 43-yard touchdown pass at 8:55 of the second before Buffalo regained the lead on Lindell's boot.
Lindell's 37-yard field goal at 7:11 of the fourth and Joique Bell's eight-yard run at 13:05 were the lone scoring plays of the second half.
Manning played the first quarter, completing 8-of-15 passes for 91 yards with a TD and an interception.
Edwards played into the second, leaving after completing 5-of-8 passes for 93 yards and a TD.
"Anytime you're in the pre-season you know you're only going to play a certain amount of plays and you like to score every single time," he said. "You want everything to go perfect when you're in there.
"That's not always the case but you must have those kind of expectations."
Colts receiver Giguere of Sherbrooke, Que., entering his third NFL season, was the lone Canadian player in the game. Defensive end John Chick — the CFL's top defensive player last season with Saskatchewan — also played for Indianapolis.