ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Quarterback EJ Manuel's much-anticipated return to the Buffalo Bills lineup after four weeks of inactivity was a flop.
The rookie signal-caller struggled through a 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, but he remains defiantly confident in his ability and vows to get better.
"I didn't feel rusty," Manuel said. "I felt good. Obviously there were plays that I missed and I just have to get better from there."
The question is, does anyone truly believe he can do it?
Manuel certainly had his share of detractors who have been chirping ever since draft day that the Bills reached way too high when they picked Manuel No. 16 overall. The chief complaint was that Manuel is inaccurate with his passes, and he made a living at Florida State throwing dump-off passes.
Against the Steelers, that's pretty much all Manuel did, and it didn't work very well. Manuel completed 22 of 39 passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Before the final garbage-time possession, when the Steelers were sitting back in prevent and giving Buffalo underneath yardage, Manuel was 11 for 25 for 79 yards.
Manuel, asked if he feels like he is back to square one because of the time he missed, said, "I don't think so. I felt like I've come too far in what I've learned, not just physically but also mentally. I'm not going to let a performance like this or a loss or anything take me down."
That is a noble attitude for sure. But now he must start showing what he learned by applying it in the games. In the 5 1/2 games he has played, he has not been very impressive except for the game-winning drive he engineered in Week 2 to beat Carolina. He has completed only 56.6 percent of his passes and his passer rating is 76.2.
"He will play to a point one day where I'm going to be able to stand here and say to you, 'You know what, I'm proud of him,'" said coach Doug Marrone. "He's that type of quarterback that we all want. The kid missed 2 1/2 weeks in the preseason, the kid missed four weeks and just came back. He's trying his best."
The Bills brain trust will never admit it, but this season isn't really about making the playoffs, it's about finding out whether Manuel is the competent and winning quarterback the Bills have lacked for far too long. There are several aspects that are important in this first year of the Doug Marrone/Doug Whaley regime, with improving a horrid defense being right near the top. But at the very top, undeniably, is the development of Manuel.
"He's still a young quarterback," said wide receiver T.J. Graham. "As an offense we have to rally around him and help him figure it out. We just weren't finishing plays and executing the way we needed to."
And that is true. Manuel was struggling, but his teammates didn't give him much help. The Bills had a tough time running against a Pittsburgh defense that ranked 31st in the NFL against the rush. And the wide receivers -- Graham, Marquise Goodwin and Stevie Johnson -- didn't win enough battles against the Steelers' aging secondary and combined for just six catches for 63 yards.
"There are a lot of things we need to do, a lot of things we need to establish," Marrone said, speaking in general about the offense. "We're going to continue to build a winning mindset and that's difficult to do when you don't win.
By The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: November 11, 2013 05:35:12 PM
Bills' Manuel: Still more questions than answers
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