Manuel out, Bills start Lewis against Dolphins
The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT
EJ Manuel is being sidelined by a knee injury, and will miss his fifth regular-season game Sunday when the Miami Dolphins visit Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Manuel hurt his left knee late in the first half at Jacksonville. It happened on a play where he was hit by one defender after releasing a pass, and when a second Jaguar came in, he caught Manuel's knee while it was prone in the air. He finished the game and helped lead the Bills to a 27-20 victory, but when he came to work Monday his knee was swollen, and it did not respond to treatment.
That was the knee he injured in the second preseason game in August against Minnesota which cost him the remainder of training camp and the final two exhibition games. Manuel returned in time for the season opener against the Patriots, but then injured his right knee when he took a direct shot while scrambling in Week 5 at Cleveland. That one sidelined him four games. Now, the left one is back in rehab, and the frustration is mounting for Manuel.
"When it happened in the game, I just kind of said to myself, 'Is this really happening?'" Manuel said. "I taped it up and kept playing, but when something like that happens it's going to get stiff and sore. It's part of it, but I hope I'll get a chance to play against New England."
Naturally, the Buffalo fan base has reacted negatively to this latest injury and there are screams around the region that Manuel is injury prone. Of course, that talk might not be as voluble if Manuel was having a great rookie season, but he isn't, and many fans are already starting to think that he wasn't worth a first-round draft pick and that the team should move on from him.
"As a football player, you're tough," he said. "I've been playing this game for however many years and never really had recurring injuries, so you don't want to get the tag of injury prone or soft, and I know I'm not that. You still have to be smart with your body."
Manuel worked out in the field house prior to Wednesday's practice to see how the knee would respond, and it was then that Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett decided he wasn't capable of protecting himself in the pocket. Manuel accompanied the team outside for its practice in the stadium, but did not do any work. He will be inactive Sunday, and Thad Lewis will get the start while Jeff Tuel will serve as the backup.
"He was able to throw the ball in the pocket, but the stability in that knee, he does not have the escapability," Marrone said of the pre-practice session. "I think it's very difficult to miss practice time and then go out there and give us the best opportunity to win on Sunday."
Marrone made it clear that he does not believe Manuel is prone to injury, but he also understands why the perception is out there.
"Obviously, people are going to think that and write that," Marrone said. "I totally understand that. But from my personal opinion, he's not injury-prone. His history has shown that he's never been hurt (in high school or college). He has gotten hurt here. What's difficult in this league for any player, is to keep coming back and coming back and never be able to fully recover."
Marrone did say that he is not shutting Manuel down for the season ala Mike Shanahan with Robert Griffin III in Washington. He believes he'll be ready to play in the season finale at New England and if so, he intends to start him.
"I feel very confident that EJ will start our final game of the season in New England," Marrone said. "Every snap, every time we can get him in there, the better and better he gets, and we've seen that with him. That's why I don't even think about (not playing him)."
SERIES HISTORY: 96th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 56-38-1. The Bills will be looking to sweep the season series for the first time since 2007, and for the 12th time in the 48 years the team have played. Earlier this season, the Bills earned a 23-21 victory with backup Thad Lewis playing quarterback in his hometown of Miami.
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES
--Backup quarterback Thad Lewis was born and raised in Miami, so snow and cold is not something for which he has an affinity. And when he played college ball at Duke rarely, if ever, did the temperature get down into the 30s, where it will be Sunday when he starts against the Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Still, he is not the least bit worried about how it will affect him.
"The weather is not a factor when you're playing, it's only a factor when you're just standing there watching," he said with a smile. "It's just like anybody in the stands. The weather won't be a factor. You're playing a football game, and I'll just go out there and play as usual."
Lewis did play in cold weather in his first career NFL start, last December for the Browns against Pittsburgh.
"I think it was 18 degrees and snowing, so I've played in a game of this magnitude with the weather, so I don't think it'll be a factor."
-- Wide receiver Stevie Johnson is probably not going to play this week. Coach Doug Marrone said Johnson isn't expected to be back from his home in Northern California in time where he's tending to funeral arrangements for his mother, Rhonda Lewis, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 48. After playing against Jacksonville, Johnson flew home to Buffalo to gather up his wife and children, then immediately flew to the West Coast.
"Stevie is excused," Marrone said. "I don't believe he will be available for our game Sunday. It's a tough situation and it's personal, so our thoughts and prayers are with Stevie and his family."
BY THE NUMBERS: 38 -- The percentage of times opposing offenses have converted on third-and-7 or longer against the Bills, which ranks 31st in the NFL. Amazingly, Buffalo's overall rate on all third downs is 39 percent, which is 18th.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't even know what's going to happen five minutes from now, so I definitely couldn't envision this, but having the opportunity was great. Being able to take advantage of that opportunity was even better, and then having another opportunity to help this ball club get another win against a division opponent is great, so that's what I'm focusing on right now." -- QB Thad Lewis on his latest chance to start for injured EJ Manuel.
AFC PLAYOFFS AT A GLANCE:
CLINCHED: Denver - playoff spot; Indianapolis - AFC South; Kansas City - playoff spot
Denver clinches AFC West division and a first-round bye with:
1) DEN win + KC loss
Denver clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:
1) DEN win + KC loss + NE loss or tie
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New England clinches AFC East division with:
1) NE win or tie OR
2) MIA loss or tie
New England clinches a first-round bye with:
1) NE win + CIN loss or tie + IND loss or tie OR
2) NE tie + CIN loss + IND loss
New England clinches a playoff spot with:
1) CIN loss or tie
Cincinnati clinches AFC North division with:
1) CIN win + BAL loss or tie OR
2) CIN tie + BAL loss
Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:
1) CIN win + MIA loss or tie OR
2) CIN tie + MIA loss
Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:
1) BAL win + MIA loss + SD loss or tie
Miami clinches a playoff spot with:
1) MIA win + BAL loss + CIN loss
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- QB EJ Manuel is now the Bills' single-season record-holder for TD passes (11) and completions (180) by a rookie, though he won't get the chance to add to those totals this week.
-- QB Thad Lewis will get his fifth career NFL start, and fourth with the Bills, this week against Miami. In his first four starts, his lone victory came against the Dolphins on Oct. 20.
-- CJ Spiller has been stuffed 27 times, or on 16.7 percent of his 162 rushing attempts this year, the highest mark in the league.
-- CB Leodis McKelvin is tied for eighth in the league with 16 passes defensed, though he does not have an interception.
-- WR Robert Woods ranks sixth in the NFL in receiving yards by a rookie with 490, despite missing two games.
-- TE Scott Chandler moved into fourth place on the Bills' all-time list for receptions by a tight end with 127.
-- DT Marcell Dareus ranks second in the NFL in sacks by a defensive tackle since the start of 2011 with 19, including eight this year.
-- LB Kiko Alonso shook off a sore knee last week and once again played every snap on defense. He has played all 969 snaps this year, tied for fourth in the NFL.
--QB EJ Manuel missed his second day of practice and will be inactive for the game against Miami.
--WR Stevie Johnson was again excused from practice Thursday because he's back home in Northern California after the death of his mother. He is most likely not going to return in time to play.
--LB Arthur Moats was excused from practice Thursday for a personal matter, but is expected to be ready for the game.
--DT Marcell Dareus returned to practice Thursday and participated fully. He's expected to play.
--SS Aaron Williams was sidelined by sore ribs and Doug Marrone listed his chances of playing as 50-50.
--RB Fred Jackson was given a rest day Wednesday because of sore ribs, and worked on a limited basis Thursday.
--DT Kyle Williams took his usual Wednesday off to rest his Achilles and returned to practice Thursday.
--CB Brandon Smith sat out with an ankle injury and isn't expected to play.
OFFICIAL FRIDAY INJURY REPORT:
--QUESTIONABLE: RB Daniel Thomas (ankle)
--PROBABLE: CB Nolan Carroll (knee), S Chris Clemons (knee, hamstring), LS John Denney (illness), CB Brent Grimes (groin), S Reshad Jones (groin), DT Paul Soliai (ankle), CB Jamar Taylor (hamstring), DE Olivier Vernon (ankle)
--OUT: WR Steve Johnson (not injury related), QB E.J. Manuel (knee), S Aaron Williams (ribs)
--PROBABLE: DT Marcell Dareus (ankle), RB Fred Jackson (ribs), CB Brandon Smith (ankle), DT Kyle Williams (achilles)
The Bills hope that the weather turns nasty, as it often does in Buffalo in December, which should give them an advantage against the visitors from the South. However, Miami went into Pittsburgh two weeks ago and knocked off the Steelers in the cold and snow, 34-28.
Buffalo will be starting Thad Lewis at quarterback, and while he threw for 202 yards in an earlier start this year in beating the Dolphins, he probably won't have the services of top WR Stevie Johnson who is mourning the death of his mother. Without Johnson, and with both Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham having gone three games each without a catch, the Bills have problems in the passing game, so they will likely try to pound the ball against a Miami defense that ranks 22nd against the run.
Defensively, the Bills will try to turn their league-best pass rush loose against the Dolphins' porous offensive line. Ryan Tannehill can be forced into mistakes when he's under duress (51 sacks, 14 interceptions), and having played college ball at Texas A&M, he has very little experience in wintry weather.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bills RT Erik Pears vs. Dolphins LB Cameron Wake -- Wake was vastly limited in the first game between these two teams in Miami due to an injury, but he's healthy now and has recorded 8.5 sacks. Pears has not had a great year and will be hard-pressed to keep Wake out of the backfield.
--Bills QB Thad Lewis vs. Dolphins secondary -- Lewis will get his second start against the Dolphins this year in place of injured EJ Manuel. In the first game at Miami, he completed 21 of 32 passes for 202 yards as he led the Bills to a 23-21 victory. This will be just his fifth career NFL start, but it should help him that he has already played Miami and has a feel for the defense. Miami has 17 interceptions this year which is tied for seventh in the league, and the Dolphins are eighth in sacks with 41.
--Bills defensive line vs. Dolphins offensive line -- Miami's overhauled front, which is minus both Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito following the bullying scandal, has struggled all year and has allowed Ryan Tannehill to be sacked 51 times, second-most in the league. The Bills lead the NFL in sacks with 49.