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First-quarter analysis: EJ Manuel bounces back from big hit, has Bills up

By Jay Skurski

TORONTO -- Exhale, Bills fans.

Quarterback EJ Manuel looks to be fine after briefly leaving today’s game against the Atlanta Falcons in the Rogers Centre.

Manuel missed one play after being drilled by Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon during Buffalo’s second offensive possession. Backup Thad Lewis handed off, then Manuel returned to lead a nine-play, 59-yard drive. Manuel has directed two scoring drives for the Bills so far, giving his team a 14-7 lead.

He finished Buffalo’s first drive with his firs career rushing touchdown – a 1-yard run on which he dove for the pylon in the front-right corner of the end zone, hitting it with the ball. Manuel was initially ruled out of bounds, but the play was reviewed and overturned.

On Buffalo’s second offensive possession, Manuel connected with Stevie Johnson twice on third-and-1 plays for first down. Fred Jackson finished the drive off with a 4-yard touchdown run, dragging three defenders in with him.

Run, C.J., run: Bills running back C.J. Spiller’s first carry went for just 2 yards. He did just a little better on the next one. Spiller ripped off a 77-yard run – the longest of his career – on Buffalo’s second offensive play, setting up a first-and-goal at the Atlanta 6-yard line.

Sack party: The Falcons lost 5 yards on their first two possessions – each of which ended with Buffalo sacks. On Atlanta’s third offensive play, quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked by linebacker Manny Lawson, who was untouched coming off the right side of the Bills’ defensive line. On the Falcons’s next possession, Ryan was dropped again on third down, this time by Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes.

Where’s everybody at: The capacity for today’s game in the Rogers Centre is 46,470. There was about a quarter of that in the stands for the 4:05 p.m. kickoff. The stands have slowly filled in – there were apparently massive lines outside the stadium – but it would be a shock if more than 30,000 people are in attendance today.

EJ Manuel up for Rookie of the Week award

By Jay Skurski

Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel is one of five candidates for the NFL's Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week award.

Manuel went 20 of 28 for 245 yards and two touchdowns in Buffalo's 37-14 win over the New York Jets in Week 11. His quarterback rating (121.9), completion percentage (71.4) and yards per attempt (8.1) were all career bests.

The other candidates are:

    • David Bass, DE, Chicago -- He finished with four tackles and an interception that he returned for a touchdown in a 23-20 victory over Baltimore.

    • Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay -- Threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns in Tampa Bay's 41-28 victory against Atlanta.

    • Matt McGloin, QB, Oakland -- Threw for 197 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start for the  Raiders in a 28-23 win over Houston.

    • Montee Ball, RB, Denver -- Had two touchdowns in the Broncos' 27-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Fans can vote by clicking here.

Game ball: Bills 37, Jets 14

Nathaniel Hackett? Come on down! Bills coordinator leaves press box

By Tim Graham

When I asked Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone in the preseason who would keep EJ Manuel calm on the sideline during games, Marrone indicated that wouldn't be a problem.

At the time we discussed it, the Bills' backup quarterback was undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, while Thad Lewis (one NFL start) was on the practice squad. Nathaniel Hackett, the Bills' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, called plays from the press box.

Who would be Manuel's soothing voice of reason when a game got squally? Marrone said if that ever became an issue he'd handle it himself -- even while overseeing his team's game plan.

The Bills apparently discovered this shortcoming last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manuel struggled at Heinz Field in his first game back from a knee injury.

So for the first time, Hackett called plays from the sideline this afternoon instead of the press box. The Bills beat the Jets, 37-14, and Manuel played his best game.

"We thought it would be better for the quarterback to have Nate down there," Marrone said. "With a young quarterback, trying to get him back ... it's a different sense."

Marrone conceded it's easier to call plays from the higher perch, but the Bills plan to keep Hackett on the sideline for the rest of the year.

Manuel's performance certainly validated that plan. He rebounded with only eight incomplete passes, 245 yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers. Manuel's 121.9 passer rating is his best through seven pro games.

"Just being able to look him in the eye," Manuel said of the benefit. "I haven't had face-to-face communication. Instead of being on a mike or a telephone or things like that, it was really good having him down there.

"He's not going back up. He'll be down there for the rest of my career."

Points after: Bills 37, Jets 14

6556026  McCoy Sports Bills

By Tim Graham

Quick highlights from the Buffalo Bills' decisive victory over the New York Jets in Ralph Wilson Stadium ...

What it means: The Bills snapped a three-game losing streak and avenged an ugly Week Three loss to the Jets. The Bills still are in the AFC East basement at 4-7, but they have to feel good about how they played. Bills rookie EJ Manuel returns to "future franchise quarterback" material (for the time being, anyway) with a strong bounce-back performance.

Players of the game: Bills safety Jairus Byrd and defensive tackle Kyle Williams were studs. Byrd had a sack and two interceptions. He dropped Geno Smith on a third-and-3 play in the second quarter to forcing a punt and grabbed an interception for the second straight week to set up a field goal right before halftime. He picked off another in the third quarter. Williams had two sacks in the first half and forced a fumble to set up a touchdown.

Manuel transmission: Geno Smith won the rookie QB showdown in the first game, but Manuel was far superior today. Manuel was 20 of 28 for 245 yards and two TDs with no interceptions. Smith completed eight of his 23 yards for 103 yards and no TDs with three interceptions and a lost fumble. Matt Simms replaced Smith with 12:55 left in the game.

Play of the game: After the Jets scored their first touchdown to make it 20-7 in the third quarter, Manuel responded with a 43-yard strike to Marquise Goodwin and put the Jets back in their place.

Milestone TD: Bills fullback Frank Summers, playing in his 13th NFL game since he got drafted in 2009, scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter. It was the first TD of his career.

Preliminary injury report: Fred Jackson writhed on the ground 2:27 into the second half with an apparent left knee injury. He returned to the game on the next series. ... Defensive tackle Kyle Williams went to the locker room with 7:18 left in the third quarter but came back quickly after getting retaped.

Coming up: The Bills are on their bye week. They will return to action Dec. 1 against the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto.

Third-quarter analysis: Bills dial up the deep ball

By Jay Skurski

If the rest of this Buffalo Bills season is about looking for improvement out of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, the third quarter today at Ralph Wilson Stadium would be a good place to start.

Manuel hit consecutive deep passes to T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin, covering 83 yards in just two plays to give the Bills a 27-7 lead at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Manuel first hit Graham down the left sideline after the receiver beat rookie Dee Milliner in coverage. The play was reviewed after the Jets challenged whether Graham was in bounds, and was upheld.

On the next play, Goodwin smoked Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie down the right sideline and hauled in a 43-yard touchdown catch. The drive lasted all of 27 seconds.

Pick six: The Bills went ahead, 34-7, on a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Da'Norris Searcy. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith has turned the ball over four times, losing one fumble and throwing three interceptions.

Still Byrd watching: Safety Jairus Byrd is having the type of game that shows why he's one of the best players in the NFL at his position. Byrd again read Smith perfectly, and picked him off for the second time. Near the end of the quarter, Byrd came in on a safety blitz and labled Smith a split second after he threw the ball.

Fred down, then back up: Bills running back Fred Jackson provided a temporary scare early in the third quarter when he was hit on the left knee by Jets safety Dawan Landry. Jackson stayed down after the hit, and was attended to by the team's training staff. He walked to the sideline under his own power, however, and returned to the game later in the quarter.

Second-quarter analysis: Bills put 'Shout' song on replay

By Jay Skurski

Just about everything that could go right did for the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter today against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Hit two field goals of 40 or more yards in a brutal wind? Check.

Complete a long touchdown pass from EJ Manuel to T.J. Graham? Check.

Force a turnover, then punch it in for another TD? Check times three.

As a result, the Bills hold a 20-0 halftime lead. The Bills scored on every possession in the second quarter, starting with a 40-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter. After forcing a three and out by New York, the Bills put together one of their best drives of the season, a 13-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Manuel to Graham.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams then recorded his second sack of the game, forcing a fumble in the process that was recovered by linebacker Manny Lawson. The Bills scored two plays later on a 2-yard touchdown run by fullback Frank Summers.

Sneak!: Fans and media members alike (especially WGR's Jeremy White) have often wondered why the Bills don't sneak the ball more when needing a yard for a first down. Buffalo did it twice in the second quarter, each time with success. The first one came on a third-and-1 play from the Buffalo 44, when Manuel rushed for 3 yards. The second sneak by Manuel came on a fourth-and-1 play from the Jets' 33-yard line on the same drive. The play was set up after Jets defensive end Leger Louzable jumped offside on a fourth-and-6 play on which the Bills had Brian Moorman out to punt.

Byrd watching: Safety Jairus Byrd was all over the field for the Bills in the second quarter. Byrd sacked Smith for a 9-yard loss early in the quarter, then later intercepted the Jets' rookie quarterback. That set up a 42-yard field goal by Carpenter that pushed the Bills' lead to 20-0.

Career high: Williams' two sacks today gives him seven on the season, a new career high. 

First-quarter analysis: Weather winning so far

By Jay Skurski

It’s shaping up to be a long day for the offenses of both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets here at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Neither team has gotten on the scoreboard after one quarter of play. The Jets had the best chance, but a 48-yard field goal attempt by Nick Folk was pushed wide right by the wind.

Folk started the ball to the left of the uprights, but the wind carried it way right.

The Jets have punted twice on three possessions, while the Bills have punted twice. Both have been good punts by Brian Moorman – going 39 yards each time, with no return. The second Moorman punt went out of bounds at the Jets’ 6-yard line.

Geno briefly hurt: Jets quarterback Geno Smith was attended to by trainers on New York’s first possession of the game after taking a big hit by Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Smith got up after the hit, but then fell back to the turf. He appeared to get hit in the ribs. After being helped up, Smith walked off under his own power. Backup Matt Simms came in for one play, handing the ball off, before Smith came back in.

Gilmore beat again: Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore continues to struggle this season. Gilmore had tight coverage on Jets receiver Santonio Holmes, but never located the ball and Holmes was able to grab it for a 35-yard gain, helping New York set up Folk’s field-goal attempt.

Bad penalty: Blocking tight end Lee Smith took a bad false start penalty for the Bills prior to a third-and-1 play at the New York 41-yard line. On the following play, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s pass was batted down by Muhammad Wilkerson. 

Bills use byzantine stat to put EJ Manuel in select QB company

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel is coming off a shabby performance. He said he wasn't rusty.

So apparently he just didn't have what it took Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that surrendered 55 points a week earlier.

Bills observers wonder if Manuel has what it takes. But Bills coach Doug Marrone has been adamant Manuel will be a good NFL quarterback. The team's media staff this week has compared Manuel with Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton.

There seems to be a concerted effort to make sure the club rallies around Manuel.

Marrone had a favorable Manuel stat ready for today's news conference at One Bills Drive.

"To put things in perspective," Marrone said, "and I think it's important, and everyone knows he's our starting quarterback and there's no problem there ... But when you look at quarterbacks with five starts and you go back to 2000 with all the young quarterbacks, he has the third-best rating out of all those quarterbacks."

This is true, albeit convoluted and not all that relevant.

Among quarterbacks who threw at least 150 passes through their first five starts in Weeks One through Five, Manuel's 79.4 passer rating is third to Newton's 84.3 and New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith's 80.3 from the 2000 season onward.

This would not include any quarterback such as Ben Roethlisberger, who didn't start as a rookie on opening day, let alone any quarterback such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, who served as backups before taking over.

The others in Marrone's top 10 -- based on data from Pro-Football-Reference.com -- include Andy Dalton (78.7), Chris Weinke (74.0), Andrew Luck (72.0), Ryan Tannehill (70.4), Sam Bradford (66.5), Brandon Weeden (64.5) and Carson Palmer (59.6).

Manuel's three interceptions are fewest among the group, but his 150 attempts and 985 yards also were the fewest. His 56.7 completion percentage ranked sixth.

Video: With season on the ropes, what do we make of these Bills?

By Tim Graham

On Tuesday's edition of "All Sports WNY" on WBBZ-TV, host Bob Koshinski and I talked about some of the most pressing issues facing the Buffalo Bills, particularly rookie quarterback EJ Manuel's development and the offense's inability to produce.

We also spoke about the Miami Dolphins' turmoil and how it further could impact the culture of football moving forward.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | [email protected]


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | [email protected]


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | [email protected]

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