BBD Editor: Dan Hope
If the Buffalo Bills (3-5) are going to pull off a surprising upset and hand the Kansas City Chiefs (8-0) their first loss of the season, they are going to have to do with their third starting quarterback of the season. With EJ Manuel (LCL sprain) and Thad Lewis (bruised ribs) both inactive for Sunday’s game due to injury, the Bills are turning to Jeff Tuel, an undrafted rookie, to take the reins of the Bills offense under center in Week 9.
Tuel did not give the Bills much reason for optimism in his only appearance of the season thus far, which came after Manuel suffered his knee injury in Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns. Tuel completed just eight of his 20 passing attempts against the Browns for 80 yards, and he threw an interception straight to Browns safety T.J. Ward that was returned for a 44-yard, game-sealing touchdown.
Tuel’s performance against the Browns was so uninspiring that the Bills resorted to Lewis, who failed to make the Bills’ 53-man roster but landed on their practice squad after going unsigned by the rest of the NFL’s team, to take over the starting job in Manuel’s absence. Lewis, to his credit, has performed solidly in place of Manuel, completing 62-of-103 passing attempts for 652 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in three starts. Nonetheless, the need to turn to an undrafted rookie who was deemed a less viable starting option than a practice-squad player is cause for concern for the Bills.
While Tuel was deemed to be the better starting option for Week 9 ahead of veteran Matt Flynn, who signed with the Bills on Oct. 14, that says more negatively about Flynn than it does positively about Tuel. Although Flynn has been in starting quarterback competitions with the Oakland Raiders this season and the Seattle Seahawks last season, he lost both competitions and ultimately lost his job with the Raiders when he was released Oct. 7 (this was another job he lost to an undrafted rookie, as the Raiders kept Matt McGloin as their backup quarterback while cutting Flynn).
Considering the rarity of an undrafted rookie starting quarterback, expectations should be set low for Tuel. In his preseason playing time and his brief stint against the Browns, Tuel showed some promising physical tools and playmaking ability, but looked far from ready for significant NFL action. He is too mistake-prone, inconsistent with downfield throwing accuracy and needs to develop better pocket presence under pressure.
These flaws could doom any chances the Bills had to pull off a stunning upset in Week 9. The Chiefs defense has been dominant all season long, ranking first in the NFL in scoring defense (12.3 points allowed per game), fifth in total defense (309 yards allowed per game) and second in takeaways (20). Considering Bills running back C.J. Spiller is also working his way back from an ankle injury and their offensive line has been shaky all season, there is no reason not to expect the Chiefs to feast upon the Tuel-led Buffalo offense Sunday.