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Bills activate some young scratches to see what they can do

By Tim Graham

TAMPA, Fla. -- A few Buffalo Bills youngsters will get a chance to show what they can do this afternoon against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Raymond James Stadium.

Activated today are a few players who haven't been dressing. Among them are running back Ronnie Wingo, guard J.J. Unga and linebacker Ty Powell. Tight end Chris Gragg, who played six straight games but was benched last week, will dress again today.

Buccaneers who were listed with injuries but will dress include cornerback Darrelle Revis and receivers Vincent Jackson and Chris Owusu, who had hamstring strains.

Buccaneers defensive end Steven Means, a Buffalo native, will dress.

Here are all the inactives for today's game:

Buffalo Bills

  • Quarterback Jeff Tuel
  • Fullback Frank Summers
  • Tight end Tony Moeaki
  • Guard Mark Asper
  • Guard Antoine McClain
  • Linebacker Jamaal Westerman
  • Cornerback Brandon Smith

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Fullback Lonnie Pryor
  • Guard Patrick Omameh
  • Guard Carl Nicks
  • Defensive tackle Gary Gibson
  • Linebacker Danny Lansanah
  • Cornerback Deveron Carr
  • Safety Bradley McDougald

Analytics site shows EJ Manuel is NFL's least-accurate passer

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills essentially are into evaluation phase for the rest of the season.

No player needs to absorb experience over the last four games more than rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.

The Bills and their weary fans still are learning about Manuel, who missed four games while recovering from a knee injury. He has looked good at times, and showed a flair for the dramatic with his game-winning touchdown drive against the Carolina Panthers in Week Two.

But one area of concern is his accuracy. Analytics site says Manuel has been the NFL's least-accurate passer this year.

Manuel ranks dead last out of the 30 quarterbacks who've handled at least 50 percent of their teams' pass plays. When the field is broadened to include quarterbacks who've handled 25 percent of their teams' pass plays, he is tied for 36th out of 38, ahead of only St. Louis Rams backup Kellen Clemens.

PFF's "quarterback accuracy percentage" metric takes a deeper look than standard completion percentage.

PFF gives the passer credit for dropped passes and does not consider the following incompletions: throwaways, spikes, batted passes or attempts while being hit.

Manuel's adjusted accuracy percentage is 66.4 percent, two-tenths of a percent worse than that of New York Jets rookie Geno Smith, who has completed 29 passes over his past four games.

On Manuel's 249 attempts, PFF counts 15 drops (he gets credit for a completion on those) plus two throwaways, one batted pass and four while being hit (he doesn't get faulted for any of those).

PFF's data tags Bills receiver Stevie Johnson for a team-high five drops, although that total also includes passes thrown by Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel. Tight end Scott Chandler and receiver Robert Woods have four drops apiece.

But Manuel is in decent company at the bottom of PFF's chart. Tom Brady is ranked 20th, Colin Kaepernick 24th, Andrew Luck 25th, Eli Manning 26th and Joe Flacco 27th.

Aaron Rodgers ranks first, followed by Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

Kyle Williams active for Bills

By Tim Graham

TORONTO -- Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams will dress for this afternoon's game against the Atlanta Falcons in the Rogers Centre.

Williams' status was suddenly in question when he wrenched his back getting out of bed Friday morning.

The inactives:

Atlanta Falcons

  • Running back Josh Vaughan
  • Guard Harland Gunn
  • Tackle Terren Jones
  • Tackle Sean Locklear
  • Defensive tackle Travian Robertson
  • Linebacker Omar Gaither
  • Safety Kemal Ishmael

Buffalo Bills

  • Quarterback Jeff Tuel
  • Running back Ronnie Wingo
  • Tight end Chris Gragg
  • Guard J.J. Unga
  • Guard Antoine McClain
  • Linebacker Ty Powell
  • Cornerback Brandon Smith

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."

Ed Reed to start for Jets; David Nelson will be captain

By Tim Graham

No major announcements when it comes to the scratches for today's game between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

But the Jets have announced Ed Reed will start at safety. The Jets signed him three days ago after the Houston Texans cut him.

You also can bank on former Bills receiver David Nelson being a captain. Jets coach Rex Ryan likes to do that when his players go up against their old teams.

All the inactives:

New York Jets

  • Quarterback David Garrard
  • Running back Alex Green
  • Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley
  • Guard William Campbell
  • Tackle Ben Ijilana
  • Tackle Oday Aboushi
  • Linebacker Garrett McIntyre

Buffalo Bills

  • Quarterback Jeff Tuel
  • Running back Ronnie Wingo
  • Wide receiver Stevie Johnson
  • Wide receiver Robert Woods
  • Guard Antoine McClain
  • Cornerback Justin Rogers
  • Cornerback Brandon Smith

Bills at Steelers inactives: Robert Woods, Jeff Tuel scratched

By Tim Graham

PITTSBURGH -- The Buffalo Bills won't have rookie receiver Robert Woods today against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Woods is out with an ankle injury that kept him from practicing. He has 26 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns.

Here are all the inactives:

Buffalo Bills

  • Quarterback Jeff Tuel
  • Running back Ronnie Wingo
  • Wide receiver Robert Woods
  • Guard Antoine McClain
  • Linebacker Ty Powell
  • Cornerback Justin Rogers
  • Cornerback Brandon Smith

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Quarterback Landry Jones
  • Wide receiver Derek Moye
  • Tight end Richard Gordon
  • Defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo
  • Linebacker Kion Wilson
  • Linebacker Chris Carter
  • Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke

On the line from Vegas: Wise guys dumping money on Bills this week

By Tim Graham

Las Vegas wise guys love the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

The savviest bettors, the ones that make sportsbooks jump, have bet enough money on the Bills throughout the week to cut the spread in half.

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened as five-point favorites, but the spread has dwindled to 2.5 points at some offshore betting sites as of this posting.

"I thought five was a little high, especially with the possibility of EJ Manuel playing," Las Vegas handicapper and former oddsmaker Joel Staniszewski said. "As the week went on, it started to drop and drop and drop. With the announcement EJ Manuel's going to start, it dropped to three and with heavy juice on the Bills.

"They're definitely getting lots of bets. People who are betting enough money to move a line are the sharp bettors."

Who would've expected this three months ago?

The Steelers are perennial contenders. They haven't had a losing record since 2003. But they are 2-6 entering Sunday's game at Heinz Field and are coming off a loss in which they allowed a club-record 55 points.

"They appear to be teams in two different directions," Staniszewski said. "Pittsburgh appears to be getting older, where the stars just aren't performing like they used to. Buffalo has the young, up-and-coming players that might be one draft and offseason away from doing some damage."

Some trends for informational purposes:

  • Buffalo is 1-4 straight up over its past five games.
  • Buffalo is 1-5 against the spread over the past six games on the road.
  • Buffalo is 1-7 straight up over the past eight games on the road.
  • Buffalo is 1-8 against the spread and straight up in its past nine games against Pittsburgh.

However, and more importantly:

  • Buffalo is 6-1 against the spread after its past seven straight-up losses.
  • Pittsburgh is 1-5 against the spread over its past six straight-up losses.

"Those two stats are key for this year," Staniszewski said. "It's showing you the Bills, although a young team that has trouble finishing games, come back and play well -- even with Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel at quarterback.

"The Steelers have done poorly and just are not playing well. Ben Roethlisberger is off his game. Their run game is not doing well. They're definitely on the decline."

A critical matchup is Buffalo's pass rush against a ramshackle Pittsburgh offensive line. Buffalo is tied for third with 29 sacks. Pittsburgh has surrendered 32, tied for second-most.

The Bills are 5-4 against the spread after starting the season 5-2.

EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis appear ready for Pittsburgh

By Tim Graham

Looks like Jeff Tuel will go from starter one week to inactive the next.

Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone announced today that recovering quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis made it through practice fine and are on track to dress for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. A final determination has yet to be made, but Tuel seems the odd man out.

"EJ wasn't sore or anything," Marrone said of Manuel's response to Wednesday's practice. "That was the one thing we were waiting for. Barring any setbacks the next couple days, both he and Thad are ready."

Unless Manuel's knee experiences a problem between now and kickoff, the Bills will start their third quarterback in three weeks.

Marrone added that as long as both are healthy, the Bills will continue their habit of keeping only two quarterbacks active for the game.

The concern with dressing a third quarterback is wasting an active roster spot on a player with a better likelihood of contributing. Teams like to have as many linemen or special-teamers on hand as possible.

"If someone's not 100 percent healthy, you might go in with three" quarterbacks, Marrone said. "But a lot of times you've got to be careful because a lot of times the position it affects the most are special teams."

Rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin was limited at today's practice, while colleague Robert Woods was absent.

Marrone said Goodwin "will be ready to go from what I've seen today. Woods will make the trip to Pittsburgh and probably be a game-time decision.

Marrone also announced newly signed fullback Evan Rodriguez will play Sunday, at least on special teams.

Stevie Johnson's got no time for talk of 'moral victories'

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Bills' record in Stevie Johnson's five-plus seasons with the team is 32-57.

You can understand, then, why Johnson has little patience for any talk of "moral victories," including after the latest loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Yesterday was frustrating because we felt like we had the game. We controlled the game, and we ended up coming out with another loss," Johnson said this morning. "If you're not frustrated about that, then you shouldn't even be in this locker room right now. You should be filled up with fire, ready to go at it next Sunday, so that's how I feel right now.

"No moral victory at all. At all. That's all it is is a lost opportunity." 

Johnson had little interest in listening to any of the ready-made excuses the Bills could use for their 3-6 start, namely the multitude of injuries the team has suffered.

"Man, it's the same-old story. Injuries are injuries. Enough. Enough of that," he said. "We're out there suited up, so nobody should be talking about injuries. If you out there, you out there, man. Enough of that injury talk. I'm tired of that.

"We in the NFL. We professionals. We're not high school football players. We've been through a lot, through college, through junior college, high school, all that stuff. ... Right now you play for the Buffalo Bills. It's no excuse for games like that. We gotta take advantage of teams like that. I felt like we didn't."

Johnson was open on the play that has received the most attention from Sunday's 23-13 loss -- the interception thrown by rookie undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel that was returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith.

"I shook him, he almost fell. He basically fell into an interception, and that was it," Johson said. "At the end of the day, you know, I'm just happy that me and my coach went over the film and we knew exactly what the look was going to be. That just gives me more confidence to watch more film with the coach, extra film, and go at it on Sunday against the Steelers."

Johnson said there have been times this season when he's looked at the number of close games that have gotten away from the team.

"I think it's natural for somebody to look back and say, 'dang, we should have had this game, we should have done this,' but damn, I mean, I've been doing this for six years. There's no moral victories at all, it's wins and losses."

Bills third team in eight months to get rid of Matt Flynn

By Tim Graham

Zero point zero.

That's the Buffalo Bills stat line for Matt Flynn.

The Bills released the journeyman quarterback today, three weeks after they signed him.

Flynn didn't get into a game for Buffalo even though EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis were injured. The Bills instead went with undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bills made the move because Manuel is nearing a return from a knee injury, and Lewis could be available for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With the roster vacancy, the Bills signed fullback Evan Rodriguez.

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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 |

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 |

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 |