Niagara Gazette

November 17, 2013

MEILER: Bills, Manuel win Round 2

BY MIKE MEILER
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — In the grand scheme of the 2013 season, Sunday's win over the New York Jets will likely go down as meaningless for the Buffalo Bills.

The playoff are a long shot for the 4-7 Bills, barring a surprise run of the table. All that's left is for new players — and coaches — to prove they belong in the league and earn a future spot in the organization.

For the Bills, the Jets are the best measuring stick for where they stand in the NFL. Both franchises have been laughingstocks in recent years, though for very different reasons. Both have talented defenses and rookie quarterbacks they're depending on to turn their fortunes around.

When Buffalo selected EJ Manuel over Geno Smith with the 16th pick in April's draft, allowing Smith to fall to the Jets in the second round, the division rivals only became further intertwined. After Smith tore the Bills apart as Manuel struggled in the Jets' 27-20 win on Sept. 2, it felt like the Jets may have gotten the best of the Bills' decision.

Sunday, the tables turned. Manuel played a clean game, going 20 for 28 for 245 yards and two touchdowns in a game that was never really on his shoulders. Buffalo's defense won the game, demolishing Smith (8-23, 103 yards, 3 interceptions, 2 fumbles) in the process. The Bills pressured Smith incessantly, sacking him four times and hitting him seemingly every drop.

Manuel was never put in position to have to win the game because Smith lost it for the Jets. He was erratic, missed many of the few open targets he had and was careless with the ball at the worst possible times, turning it over three times inside the Jets' 40.

To Manuel's credit, he made the plays that were available to him. Much has been made about his tendency to check down rather than take a chance deep, and early on it looked like that'd be the case Sunday. He lucked out on a deep floater to TJ Graham that the receiver made a nice play on, but in the third quarter, he aired it out, hitting Graham on Marquise Goodwin on back-to-back bombs on a two-play scoring drive right after the Jets cut the score to 20-7.

Manuel looked leagues better than Smith on Sunday and — for the short term, at least — reminded fans why the Bills made him the first quarterback selected in the draft. Though he missed 5 1/2 games with a knee injury, he's thrown just two less touchdowns than Smith and nine fewer interceptions.

Whether Manuel or Smith end up being franchise QBs is still a ways away. After Sunday's win, though, it sure looks like Manuel is a lot closer.

Respond to Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler or by email at mike.meiler@niagara-gazette.com.