NFL Media went with a strange story on Sunday morning reporting that EJ Manuel “could” reboot the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback debate with a solid performance in place of injured starter Tyrod Taylor against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“With a solid performance today EJ Manuel really does have a chance to create a quarterback battle for next week and going forward throughout the season,” the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said.
On the surface that seemed absurd.
Taylor, the former backup to Joe Flacco in Baltimore who is dealing with a sprained left knee, had given the Bills more than anyone could have expected over the first five weeks of the season, completing over 70 percent of his passes and amassing a 103.6 passer rating, while also providing the dual threat Buffalo wants with an additional 187 yards on the ground.
And he had the team above water and in the playoff hunt at 3-2.
Manuel, on the other hand, has thrown for 16 touchdowns against 12 interceptions over his previous 14 career starts with a completion percentage of just 58.6 percent. He was uneven at best over 10 starts during his rookie season and benched four games into his sophomore campaign for pedestrian veteran Kyle Orton, who came off the street cold.
Then Manuel spent most of the offseason as the third man in the conversation until a decent preseason made Buffalo comfortable enough to trade veteran backup Matt Cassel to the quarterback-starved Dallas Cowboys back on Sept. 22.
So what gives?
After checking with a couple sources in Western New York, although there wasn’t much empirical evidence to back up Rapoport’s take, the speculative part of his story added up just fine if you consider what was in front of Rex Ryan’s team on Sunday.
The unbeaten Bengals have been one of the NFL’s best and most well-rounded teams through the five-mile marker so you could safely bet a stellar performance by Manuel against that club was going to be a check mark in his favor. Meanwhile, the Florida State product’s first-round pedigree plays into the thought process of many who automatically assume a top-tier pick has the higher ceiling than a sixth-round choice like Taylor.
Furthermore if Manuel played poorly, the story could easily be dismissed as the former future of the franchise not doing enough to push a healthy Taylor moving forward.
And that will be the spin Monday as mighty Cincinnati handled its business rather easily in the Empire State as MVP candidate Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes as the Bengals stayed perfect with a 34-21 triumph, matching the franchise’s best start ever.
Manuel wasn’t horrible but he was inconsistent as usual in his first start in over a year, finishing the day 28-of-42 for 263 yards with a touchdown through the air and one on the ground, along with an interception.
That said, you got the distinct feeling this Bengal tiger was playing with the Manuel-led Bills, almost batting the overmatched team like a toy between its giants paws.
After Manuel took it in on a 2-yard run on Buffalo’s first possession, Cincy shut things down, allowing no positive yardage over the Bills’ next four possessions. The Bengals eventually put things away with 17 points of their own on their first three drives of the second half.
And watching the beatdown, the only concern now with Taylor over Manuel should be whether the 6-foot-1, 210-pound movement-based signal caller can handle the pounding over a 16-game season.
Taylor missed Sunday’s contest due to the sprained MCL he suffered in the Bills’ Week 5 win over the Tennessee Titans and, as a former backup, he understands how tenuous someone’s job in this league can be so he lobbied to play all week. But, that was pie-in-the-sky thinking with a sprained knee which is more likely to be a multi-week thing than not.
And that brings to the floor, the real query in Buffalo, not if Manuel could push Taylor so general manager Doug Whaley looks a little better, but whether or not it was the right decision to move Cassel with the understanding the backup was going to play at some point because of the type of quarterback Taylor is.
— John McMullen is the national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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