It was looking more likely that Thad Lewis would get the start at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills Sunday, but coach Doug Marrone would not name a starter Thursday for the game against the New England Patriots.
Lewis was a full participant in Thursday’s practice, while Manuel was only able to practice on a limited basis.
Manuel is rehabilitating a left knee sprain suffered almost two weeks ago against Jacksonville. Marrone said Manuel looked better than he did in Tuesday’s practice. Manuel took some snaps with the team during the 11-on-11 portion of the practice, Marrone said.
Lewis took the first snaps with the starters during the position-drills portion of practice that the media watched at the start of the workout.
“EJ did look improved today, and we’re still in the process of making a decision on how we’re going to move forward,” Marrone said.
The Bills (6-9) are eliminated from the playoff race, while New England (11-4) is fighting for a better playoff seeding and still has a chance to win home-field advantage for the post-season.
Do the Bills want to start their prized rookie on less than a full week of practice? Marrone characterized it as a tough decision.
“It’s not as easy as people think,” Marrone said. “There’s a lot of things that are involved. Stability. Is it stable enough to do what we want to do? Field conditions, weather. How’s the game plan, how does he know it? The confidence level of the team in doing it. There’s a lot of things that go into the decision. It’s not easy. It’s one that I think about quite a bit because of the importance of the position.”
Year Two is critically important in the development of a quarterback, and the Bills surely would not want to see Manuel’s first full NFL offseason compromised in any way. This is the third time this year Manuel has been forced to the sidelines due to a relatively minor knee injury.
Marrone said he was not worried about what people outside the team would think if Manuel played and re-injured the knee. But he acknowledged he would be second-guessed if that happened.
“My thought is we’re in position where we have to win,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to have the best players out there to win. I think it’s a decision where it would be tough to defend. I’ll be able to go up there and say here’s the decision I made. Now after the game, there can be a lot of things you can write about. Hey, if the kid goes out there and plays and gets re-injured; why’d they play him? If the kid goes out there and does well, then everyone’s like, that’s great. You can take either way.”
“I don’t necessarily think about that when you’re making those decisions,” Marrone said. “How is it going to be viewed? ... I really think of it as my responsibility to put the best players out there at any position where we have an opportunity to win. ... If I start thinking of it any other way I don’t think you can make the best decision.”
Lewis is 2-2 as a starter this season, with both wins coming over the Miami Dolphins. He is under contract with Buffalo for next season. He could strengthen his bid to go into next season as the No. 2 behind Manuel with a strong showing against the Patriots.
Asked about his prospects to be No. 2 in 2014, Lewis said: “I think I did pretty good with the opportunities I’ve had. You never know the situation. Hopefully it can be a long-term opportunity to be here to be a backup. But you just try to worry about what’s important now.”
Bills running back Fred Jackson said the team has faith in Lewis.
“We know we can win with him, so we’re behind him 100 percent,” Jackson said. “He’s been able to make some plays for us with his arm and with his feet. We like what he brings to the table. We’ll do everything we can to make his job easier.”