Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone didn’t put a percentage on the chances of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel starting Sunday’s season finale against the New England Patriots, but it sounded decidedly less than the “110 percent” it was last week.
“EJ came in today. Obviously he was with the trainers,” Marrone said Monday afternoon, “Looking forward to seeing him out there tomorrow and how he feels.”
When asked if he was still “110 percent” confident Manuel would play – as he was last week – Marrone replied: “Well, I mean I’m the coach. When people ask me, that’s how I usually go about it with players. I think it’s a process and, you know, we’ll get him out there tomorrow and take a peek at him.”
Marrone was subsequently asked whether Manuel had suffered a setback to the left knee injury he suffered in Week 15 against Jacksonville.
“When you say setback as far as everything that we’ve been doing, no. It’s just a part of a process and we’ll get him out there on the field,” the coach said. “We decided to rest him, for the things that we wanted to do on the field ... to get the maximum amount of time and we’ll put him out there tomorrow.”
The Bills are 2-3 without Manuel in the lineup this season. Backup Thad Lewis has directed both victories – each of which came against the Miami Dolphins and included Sunday’s 19-0 win in the home finale at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Marrone was asked if there was a chance Manuel could miss the game against New England.
“I think there’s always a chance,” he said. “There’s a chance that someone could come in here tomorrow and say, you know, ‘I don’t feel well.’ So I think it’s very difficult. ... I’m one of those guys. I really don’t know a lot when it comes down to the specifics of injuries, I’ve been that way since training camp. But I’m always pushing, trying to get them out there and trying to get them to play. And I’m optimistic.”
The Bills checked one item off their season-ending to-do list Monday when they agreed to a three-year contract extension with defensive lineman Alan Branch.
Branch, who turns 29 Sunday when the Bills close out the regular season at New England, has started 12 games this year in his first season with Buffalo.
“It feels good just knowing that my future is secure for a little bit. Not wondering what’s going to be happening in the next couple of months, that’s a load off, as well,” he said.
Branch, who’s playing this season on a one-year, $3 million contract, started the year as a reserve along the defensive line. He became a starter after Alex Carrington was lost for the season because of an injury in Week Three. For the season, Branch has played 36 snaps a game – about 50 percent.
Terms of Branch’s new deal have not yet been released. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder has 35 tackles this year as the “five technique” defensive end on the strong side – where the tight end lines up.
“I was excited. I think that Alan has played extremely well for us,” Marrone said. “We’ve been able to move him to that five-technique spot. He’s made a lot of plays there. We have the ability to put him at nose. He’s a big-body guy. When you look at our guys up front, and you look at the production of Kiko as our middle linebacker, a lot of that production goes because of the guys up front. They’re taking up two blocks, not letting anyone get on him, and Alan’s done a great job with that, so we’re happy to have him as part of this team as we go forward.”
With Carrington also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, the Bills faced a big decision at the position. Branch’s signing is one less offseason need.
“I like the fit a lot. I think schematically, this is one of the better defenses for me because I’m a quicker big fella. I can get penetration or I can surprise them with some power. I keep the offensive linemen on their toes most of the time. I feel like that goes toward my strengths a lot,” he said. “When my agent and the team got everything settled, that was an easy decision for me to stay. Knowing that we’re just a step away from putting everything together and becoming that playoff team that we know that we can be, I’m excited about being part of that building process.”
The seventh-year veteran has started 46 of 93 career games and made 166 tackles and eight sacks. He spent the 2011-12 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks after entering the NFL as a second-round draft pick of Arizona in 2007.
Robert Woods experienced a first he’d rather not have Sunday against the Dolphins – getting tossed from a football game.
Woods was ejected in the third quarter after throwing a punch at Dolphins safety Reshad Jones at the conclusion of a play.
“Of course you shouldn’t throw a punch in a football game, but if you’re playing outside the rules, sometimes you got to be a man,” Woods said. “I learned my lesson and just can’t do it again.”
Prior to being ejected, Woods had three catches for 70 yards, including a career-long 57-yarder.
“In talking with Robert, obviously there is a great appreciation for his intensity and how he goes about his business and how he practices and plays,” Marrone said. “He’s an intense individual. I think any coach would appreciate that. There comes a time – and Robert is mature enough to know – that you just can’t do those things and put your team in jeopardy. He understands that and that’s the type of talk that we’ve had.”
Marrone said he wouldn’t be surprised if the league took further disciplinary action against Woods.
On the play prior to being ejected, Woods was blocking Jones on the opposite side of the field from a Buffalo run.
“He ran to the flat and ran away from the play, which was something weird,” Woods said. “He felt it was necessary to push me after the play was over, throw me over the pile and I threw the punch.
“I don’t know where his actions came from, but actually he cheap-shotted me last time we played as well. But I didn’t know it was him. It was just one of those things where I guess that’s how he plays.”
Marrone sounded doubtful that receiver Stevie Johnson would be ready to face New England. Johnson is away from the team while grieving the death of his mother.
“I’ve had correspondence with Stevie and again I’m going to reiterate that our thoughts and prayers are with him,” Marrone said. “His mom’s funeral is the 27th. With that being said, I think it’s very difficult as far as the availability issue of him being available for Sunday.”