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E.J.'s Starting Dreams Vanish in London Horror Show

Goodbye, Manuel
E.J.'s Starting Dreams Vanish in London Horror Show

I turned on the television Sunday morning with low expectations for Buffalo’s game in London against Jacksonville.

The Bills somehow managed to fall well short of them.

With a backup quarterback throwing to backup receivers while operating behind backup linemen, while operating against the National Football League’s most pitiful franchise, a Jaguars team able to reduce any contest to the quality of the second half of an exhibition game, it was impossible to anticipate a dominant showing from Rex Ryan’s purported bullies. Or even a mildly aesthetically pleasing one.

But, my God.

E.J. Manuel’s steady disintegration in the first half was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in 40 years of watching the Bills and a quarter-century of writing about them.

The first sign that things were about to go horribly wrong came late in the first quarter. Manuel had some shaky moments on Buffalo’s early possessions, but managed to pick up a couple first downs on the opening drive and get his team in position for a field goal during the second.

The third time Buffalo had the ball, though, Manuel froze and got sacked for a 9-yard loss on second down, despite his gum-and-string line giving him plenty of time initially.

On third-and-14, he locked in on LeSean McCoy circling out of the backfield. One of his linemen was tied up with Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, the two struggling directly between the quarterback and his target.

Manuel could have looked downfield for another receiver. He could have lobbed one over the scrum to McCoy, who was positioned to take the ball at least close to the first-down marker. Or he could have tucked the ball and taken off, using what seems to be his most consistent area of ability.

Manuel did none of those things.

Either he did not see the two 300-pound men grappling a few feet in front of them, or he engaged in the sort of magical thinking that makes a toddler believe that riding a tricycle down a flight of stairs will not result in broken bones or, at the very least, significant head trauma.

He threw the ball exactly as he might have if the blocker and blockee were not there. Marks simply reached up, and batted down the pass. Didn’t even have to jump.

Manuel’s egregious second-quarter bumbling, which spurred Jacksonville to a 27-point spree in less than six minutes of game time, has been well documented and ridiculed elsewhere, so let’s spare ourselves rehashing the horror here.

It got so bad that, following the three consecutive pass plays that ended with a trio of turnovers and a pair of defensive touchdowns by the Jaguars, it came as a welcome relief when Manuel merely one-hopped a 10-yard throw to a wide-open Robert Woods.

But it was well before that, after Marks snuffed what should have been one of the simplest throws Manuel will ever have to make, that I finally gave up. I’ve made the case a number of times over the past couple years that Buffalo’s first-round pick in the 2013 draft had yet to prove that he might not develop into a reasonably decent NFL quarterback, given a reasonable opportunity to develop.

Whether or not he got that chance under Doug Marrone’s stewardship remains in question. But the answer to that question no longer matters.

This is not to say there is not a spot on a roster for him somewhere—even in Buffalo. After all, he did stabilize enough to get the Bills back in the game, and even the lead, before defensive breakdowns, mystifying officiating and the weekly suite of dumb penalties and questionable coaching gave the Jaguars a game that neither team was worthy of winning.

At the moment, fully two-thirds of the league’s starting quarterbacks suck more often than they do not. And those are the first-stringers.

It’s tough to make an argument that there are many, or even any, better backup passers than Manuel. His predecessor at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassel, was horrid in his own way in Dallas’ loss to the New York Giants later on Sunday.

All of which leaves the Bills hoping their badly needed bye week gives Taylor’s medial collateral ligament enough time to heal, and that all his other tendons and joints remain intact the rest of the way.

Not to say that Taylor, who has started all of five NFL games, has proven himself good enough to save a season that’s quickly slipping away. But on Sunday, Manuel left Buffalo with no other option.

Dave Staba has been writing about the team, among other topics, for local and national publications since 1990. Follow him on and

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