Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch (90) grabs Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) by the jersey to stop him during the first half of an NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Bulldog - EJ's Day
The final three games of the season really come down to one thing and one thing only. How does EJ Manuel calm the masses? Fans are looking for Manuel to give us some good reason to feel like the quarterback position is at least in good hands moving forward. Heck, I was fond of saying that was what the entire season was about going back to July. Coming off a horrendous day in the loss at Tampa last week, skeptical eyes turned to Manuel again Sunday at Jacksonville.
So how did that go? Well Manuel had an almost comically bad start to the game. He struggled badly to complete even the easiest of throws. Swings and screens were high and wide. Manuel even ended up being picked off on a screen pass attempt. That was pretty much the story of the first quarter and it left me wincing in anticipation of the next Bills possession.
Then some good things started to happen. Manuel found a groove and hit some passes down the field. Nice throws to Robert Woods and Scott Chandler perhaps helped Manuel get his feet under him. The Bills managed to put 17 points up in the 2nd quarter, the touchdowns coming on a 7 yard pass from Manuel to Woods and an 8 yard keeper by Manuel.
Seeing Manuel rebound from such a rocky start is a trait we've seen dating back to training camp practices. It is a good thing to able to do. Let me state the obvious. You'd rather avoid the sloppy starts and not have anything to recover from.
The offense kind of bogged down again in the 3rd quarter and a Manuel mistake played a big role. On a 3rd and 5 play from the Jacksonville 35 yard line Manuel was flushed out of the pocket by an unblocked blitz and failed to take care of the ball. The Jaguars recovered and tied the game at 20 on the ensuing drive. That set us up for Manuel to be put to the test again.
He responded with a very nice drive that gave the Bills the lead right back. Manuel made good throws down field on the drive to Robert Woods and dropped a long ball right into Marquise Goodwin. Even though it went for an incompletion the Bills ended up with 15 yards on the play when a Jaguars defender hit Goodwin in the head. Bottom line, it was a money drive from Manuel when it was badly needed.
We came close to seeing Manuel in yet another big spot as the Jaguars were close to tying the game up with just about 3 minutes to go but a 3rd down pass by Chad Henne was picked off in the end zone by Stephon Gilmore. The Jaguars did get one more chance but they went 4 and out and the Bills won 27-20.
By the numbers, Manuel ended up 17/24 for 193 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT and a lost fumble. To my eyes it ends up being the kind of game Manuel has had a few of this season. Some awful throws that may leave you covering your eyes followed by some good throws that redeem him and maybe slow down the fans calling for the Bills to draft his replacement next spring.
While I would not tell you Manuel has done enough to make me feel as though the Bills are all set at quarterback, I think over the course of 10 starts this year I'm ready to cool it on the draft idea, at least with an early pick, and give Manuel the keys to the offense moving into next season.