For so many of the Detroit Lions' bubble players, the swan-song performance to the NFL's 2016 preseason was one they had to deliver to make a lasting impression that might tip the scales in their direction to win a roster spot.
If the last impression was the best impression, and good enough to decide their fate, then they can take heart from head coach Jim Caldwell's message to the team after Thursday night's 31-0 victory over the Buffalo Bills in preseason Game 4 at Ford Field.
"Coach Caldwell said after the game, 'Hey, you did a good job making it difficult on us,'" said Jake Rudock, the No. 3 quarterback who was one of the players who made roster cut-down decisions more difficult.
In the day-after review of Game 4, the notable developments are solid performances by players on the bottom of the roster. That includes rookies drafted in Round 5 or lower or signed as free agents after going undrafted and others who are competing for backup jobs. There is also one starter who got extended playing time.
Rudock's rise: As Caldwell said often, and Rudock agreed after Thursday night's game, the final preseason game was pressure-packed for players trying to win roster spots. It was a step-up game for Rudock, and he took a giant leap in bouncing back from his 0-for-6 performance the previous week at Baltimore.
Rudock's passing stats spoke for themselves – 14 of 23 for 171 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 123.4. He is not noted as a scrambler, but he ran four times for 31 yards.
What does not appear in the stats is how he bought time with his legs before hitting Jace Billingsley with a 10-yard pass for his second TD late in the third quarter. It was a solid, heady play by Rudock – and a fine one-handed catch by Billingsley who had the field awareness to stay in bounds as he secured the ball just inside the right sideline.
Rudock does not have a powerful passing arm, but he was able to use the talent level he possesses effectively in Game 1 at Pittsburgh and again against Buffalo.
"Obviously, you want to be on the team," Rudock said. "It doesn't go any further than that."
Hyder's double hat trick: For the second straight year, defensive end Kerry Hyder was a playmaker for the Lions in a Game 4 win over the Bills.
Last year Hyder recovered three fumbles. Thursday night he had three sacks. A fourth sack was called back because of a penalty.
Hyder was let go in the final cut last year, then signed to the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster for the final game and played two snaps at defensive tackle against the Bears. This year he's competing at defensive end.
Caldwell talked about how Hyder changed his body type to switch from tackle to end.
"He has great desire," Caldwell. "He has great effort. He's one of those guys that loves to play."
Kyle Van Noy: He was the Lions' only projected starter on offense or defense who got extended playing time. Van Noy played all of the first half and part of the second. Defensive end Devin Taylor and safety Tavon Wilson also played, but not as much as Van Noy.
"Van Noy did a nice job in there," Caldwell said.
Young hands: If it was a two-man battle for the last receiver spot, it looked like a draw between Billingsley and Jay Lee. Both are undrafted rookies.
Billingsley had seven catches for 80 yards and a TD. Lee had six catches for 78 yards and a TD.
If size is a deciding factor, the advantage goes to Lee. He's 6-2. Billingsley is 5-9.
Draft class: It was a good night for players taken in Round 5 and lower in Bob Quinn's first draft as GM of the Lions. That's an area where the Lions have had limited success in recent years.
Here's how the rookies in Round 5 and lower fared vs. the Bills, by round selected:
5 G Joe Dahl: He started at left tackle on a line that for the game did not give up a sack and opened holes for 144 yards. Noted, the Bills were playing without their starters, but so were the Lions. It was backups vs. backups, and the Lions won up front.
5 LB Antwione Williams: For the second preseason game he led the defense in tackles with seven. He had one tackle for loss, and an unfortunate 15-year penalty early for unnecessary roughness.
6 DE Anthony Zettel: He had one of the Lions' four sacks.
6 QB Jake Rudock: 3 TD passes.
7 RB Dwayne Washington: A 58-yard TD run on the third play of the game – his third TD of the preseason. He led the Lions with seven carries for 68 yards.