BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills are hoping to get their starting quarterback back at some point this season, but it may not be as soon as originally hoped.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday that barring any further setbacks, rookie EJ Manuel is scheduled to return in four to six weeks, the same timetable that was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Oct. 4.
The Bills have five more games prior to their Week 12 bye, but in all likelihood, Marrone’s health update indicates that Manuel will return to game action no earlier than the Bills’ Week 13 game versus the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 1.
The Bills are playing it smartly conservative with Manuel, giving him the time he needs to recover from his sprained LCL rather than rushing him back to the field. On a team whose long-term prognosis is more promising than its likelihood for short-term success, preserving Manuel’s long-term health is far more important than how much he plays this season.
Nonetheless, the news significantly decreases the Bills’ chances of getting back into contention this season.
Their starting quarterback for the next five games is expected to be Thad Lewis. Lewis had a solid performance in an overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, completing 19-of-32 passing attempts for 216 yards and two touchdowns, and also adding 17 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, but he does not have as much potential and playmaking ability as Manuel.
At 2-4, the Bills need Lewis to come up with some big wins in the next few weeks to have any chance of staying in playoff contention. That task is easier said than done, as Buffalo has three consecutive games versus team with winning records (Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs), and play the New York Jets, a team they already lost to earlier this season with Manuel at quarterback, on Nov. 17.
Additionally, Lewis is also coming off an injury after leaving the stadium in a walking boot following Sunday’s game. Fortunately for the Bills, Lewis is on track to start Sunday versus the Dolphins after fully participating in practice Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak.
The Bills added quarterback depth by signing Matt Flynn on Monday, and also have undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel on their roster, but Marrone has said Lewis will start if healthy, which appears to be the case.
If the Bills can pull off some unexpected victories, they will certainly be hoping for a return from Manuel for the stretch run of the season, but if they fall out of contention, there will be no reason to rush Manuel back until he is 100 percent healthy. The Bills should still be in a competitive mode for the 2013 season, but more realistically, the team should focus on what Manuel can do for them in 2014 and beyond, when he will have more experience under his belt and hopefully be fully healthy.
Prior to his injury, Manuel had completed 85-of-150 passing attempts for 985 yards and five touchdowns with only three interceptions. He had also rushed for 91 yards on 25 carries.