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Bills QB Manuel goes from bad to worse

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Quarterback EJ Manuel’s career is in disarray after failing miserably in his two-game stint as the Buffalo Bills starter. Last week against Cincinnati, Manuel battled his usual inconsistency and inaccuracy against a very good team.

Sunday, he was just downright pathetic for a stretch in the second quarter against a bad Jacksonville team as the Bills lost to the Jaguars in London, 34-31.

Manuel committed three turnovers in a span of 1:41 – a sack/fumble that was returned for a touchdown, a pick-six, and another pick that set up the Jaguars for a third touchdown. It was some of the worst quarterback play Bills have ever seen, and that’s saying something given the Bills’ tortured quarterback history.

“It was bad football,” Manuel admitted. It sure was, and it may stamp Manuel forever as nothing more than a mediocre backup in the NFL who can’t be counted on when he has the opportunity to start.

Manuel is now 6-10 as a starter since the Bills picked him in the first round of the 2013 draft, No. 16 overall. He started 10 games as a rookie while battling knee injuries, then lost his job after Week 4 in 2014 and never regained it. He was beaten out by Tyrod Taylor over the summer, but started the last two games in place of Taylor, who has a knee injury.

There was some speculation, though some it was planted by general manager Doug Whaley, that Manuel could have made a case to be the starter had he played well in Taylor’s absence. That talk should end now.

“It’s definitely a game we felt we should have won,” said Manuel, who finished 24 for 42 for 298 yards, two TDs, two interceptions and the lost fumble. “I take a lot on my shoulders, to be honest. I’m not going to stand up here and say, ‘It’s a team game and this and that.’ I feel like I have to do a better job as a quarterback. You take things and learn from them. You watch the tape. You’re a man about it. But for me personally, it’s going to be tough.”

To his credit, he did regroup and in the second half he went 12 of 18 for 158 yards including a perfectly-thrown 58-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Easley that pulled Buffalo within 27-24. However, after the Bills took the lead on an interception return touchdown, then lost it when the Jaguars scored with 2:16 to go, Manuel could not get the Bills past midfield. He botched a QB sneak on third-and-1, then threw a poor pass on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs.

Coach Rex Ryan said afterward that he never thought about yanking Manuel in the second quarter.

“No, I didn’t,” said Ryan. “He was down, but he wanted to play, he wanted to get back on that field. He knew that we could do better, and he never lost faith. He was down because of the mistakes, but he was ready to fight.”

However, Ryan made it clear what Manuel’s role will be when Taylor returns.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” Ryan said when asked if he was comfortable with Manuel as his backup. “Absolutely. Absolutely I am 100 percent comfortable with him as the backup, yep.”

And that’s where he hopes he stays the rest of the year.

REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS

–PASSING OFFENSE: D. EJ Manuel was only awful for part of the game, but that part – early in the second quarter – ultimately came back to haunt the Bills. During a span of 5:40, he committed three turnovers that directly led to 20 Jacksonville points. He rallied later and finished with 298 yards passing and two TDs, but his performance was not up to anyone’s NFL standard. That said, he was without his top two receivers and the right side of the offensive line. WR Robert Woods had a nice game with nine catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C. The Bills fell behind early and really couldn’t stick to their plan which was to run the ball and ride LeSean McCoy. McCoy did carry 18 times, but he gained only 68 yards, even though his hamstring didn’t seem to be a problem. McCoy also lost a fumble inside the Jaguars’ 5-yard line in the fourth quarter, which momentarily derailed Buffalo’s comeback. Manuel contributed 38 yards on eight attempts, most of which were designed read option calls.

–PASS DEFENSE: C. Blake Bortles completed only 13 of 29 passes for 182 yards so for the most part the Bills played well. FS Corey Graham had a 44-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter that gave the Bills a 31-27 lead. However, with the game on the line, the pass defense let down. Bortles was able to drive the Jags 84 yards, completing 4 of 6 for 54 yards, the last a 31-yard touchdown strike to Allen Hurns as the Bills lost coverage. Of course, that play may never have happened if not for a dubious pass interference penalty on CB Nickell Robey on third-and-15 that gave the Jags a first down. The pass rush was better, but it still managed only two sacks for seven yards.

–RUN DEFENSE: C. T.J. Yeldon gouged the Bills for 115 yards on 20 carries, and one of those was a 28-yard TD where he broke about three tackles. LBs Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were not involved and combined for only five tackles, not a good sign for your linebackers. The defense did have a great goal-line stand in the third quarter, stopping four straight runs from the 1, a truly uninspiring play-calling sequence for the Jaguars.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B plus. Finally, a game that wasn’t a complete embarrassment for the kicking units. They committed only one pattern, a block in the back by Randell Johnson. Dan Carpenter made three field goals, Colton Schmidt had a tremendous 49.3 net punt average, and welcome back Jordan Gay as he had five touchbacks on seven kickoffs. Even Denarius Moore helped out with two punt returns for 37 yards.

–COACHING: C. Rex Ryan gets some credit for keeping his team mentally into the game when it was 27-3 because it could have gotten very ugly for the Bills. And offensive coordinator Greg Roman somehow got Manuel straightened out to the point where he was actually functional for most of the final two-plus quarters. Still, this staff lost to the Jaguars, who entered the game 1-5 and on a four-game losing streak. The bye could not come at a better time for the Bills.


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