I didn't turn off the Bills game when EJ Manuel was injured with a little over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter but I should have. For all intents and purposes, the game was over at that point. Without Manuel and number one wide receiver Stevie Johnson, the Bills offense was dead.
With Manuel on the field for the seven previous possessions, the Bills offense had put 17 points up on the board in about 31 minutes of game time against a Cleveland Browns defense that held Joe Flacco/Baltimore to 14 points and Andy Dalton/Cincinnati to six points.
Manuel had also just set the Bills up for first down at the Browns 13 yard line when he left the field. Undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Tuel came on the field for his NFL debut and perhaps he left you with some hope when that drive ended up with a touchdown that put the Bills back in front 24-17 but unfortunately, none of the Bills remaining drives began at the Cleveland 13 yard line.
In Tuel's six full drives running the offense, the Bills didn't get any points, managed a grand total of 76 yards. The offense was minus seven since Tuel's interception was returned for a touchdown by the Browns.
Now I'm not angry at Jeff Tuel. What were we to expect? An undrafted rookie, getting a few reps at practice each week, tossed out on the field without the number one receiver and the top two running backs at less than full strength. The injury to TJ Graham would make matters worse.
Trailing 30-24, with 2:19 left and the ball at their own 20, the Bills hopes for a second, end of game, comeback victory, in four weeks rested with Tuel and a group of receivers that featured Robert Woods, Marcus Easley and Chris Hogan.
Watching the Bills offense after Manuel went down was like watching an NHL team be tied going into the third period but told it had to play the remainder of the game shorthanded. It felt like the Bills were told they could put the offense on the field but it wouldn't be allowed to score any points. We were reduced to hoping the defense would not only keep the Browns from scoring again but it would add its own touchdown to win the game.
When the TV cameras showed Manuel moving around on the sideline and riding the bike, my spirits rose slightly thinking he would be coming back but it never happened and thoughts of a 3-2 record were gone.
I appreciate Manuel's competitive fire and his desire to make as big a play as possible but he should have gotten out of bounds. Doug Marrone said he would never tell a player not to try and score a touchdown but that wasn't happening on this play. A defender was bearing down on Manuel and had the angle as well as the sideline as a barricade. Manuel's number one goal should have been get a first down and get out of bounds as soon as possible, yet he kept running down the sideline. If Manuel stepped out right at the marker, the Bills would have had a first down at the Browns 19 yard line and their best quarterback still in the game.
Watching Tuel run the offense the rest of the game made me wish Kevin Kolb was playing.
By the way, I didn't think the hit on Manuel was dirty but if the officials are going to give Fred Jackson a personal foul penalty for flipping the ball to a player on the Browns sideline then Tashaun Gipson(the player who hit Manuel) should have been flagged for taunting when he celebrated his knockout hit on the Bills QB by doing his best impression of a boxing referee signaling a fight has ended by knockout. Either that or he thought he was a baseball umpire and was calling Manuel safe on the play.
If Manuel stays in, I have no doubt the Bills win that game. They had come out strong in the third quarter after blowing a 10-0 lead and somehow trailing 17-10 at the half. Spiller's 54 yard touchdown explosion put life back into the team. The defense followed that with a three and out featuring a tackle for loss by Mario Williams on first down and a Williams sack on third down.
Manuel and the offense got the ball at their own 46 yard line and quickly moved into scoring position.
We should have been talking about the Bills moving to 3-2. We should have been talking about Manuel taking another step with his first road victory after an awful performance in his road debut at the Jets. We should have been talking about how Mike Pettine is a gift from the football gods and how much fun it is to watch his defense. We should have been talking about the ever growing "legend of Kiko Alonso" but we aren't. Instead we're talking about yet another kick to the gut of Buffalo sports fans(or slightly lower for the male Buffalo sports fans).