Fire off the streamers, blare the horns and get down like it’s 1999: Buffalo Bills starting quarterback E.J. Manuel has been cleared to return to action.
The rookie quarterback has been injured since the end of the Week 5 matchup against the Cleveland Browns, suffering an LCL sprain on a scramble. He had a relatively strong start for the surprisingly competitive Bills, going 85-for-150 for 985 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.
In his absence, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel were serviceable, but the team hasn’t looked the same as they did under Manuel. Lewis had his moments when he wasn’t throwing a devastating pick-six, and so did Tuel, but they don’t bring the same presence to this offense that Manuel did.
Under Manuel, the Bills ran their hurry-up offense, moving the ball down the field quickly and precisely. Manuel looked more confident as the year went on and started finding a rapport with fellow rookie Robert Woods. If the Bills are looking to grow offensively, developing other receivers is going to be a key, and it certainly looked as though that was happening with Manuel in.
Plus, there’s the obvious difference to Manuel being in the lineup as opposed to out of it: he gets to continue developing. You could see the difference in him from Week one to Week five and being able to get back out of the field, continuing to improve and setting himself up for a big year next season are all very important things.
Regardless of how the Bills end up this season (8-8 would be a miracle), the key is developing Manuel for the future and growing him in Marrone’s offense.
It’s uncertain whether or not this means Manuel will be in the lineup for the Bills’ Week 10 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, though that could depend more on the status of Lewis than Manuel. With such a long time off in between starts, coach Doug Marrone could try to ease Manuel back into the starting role.
Either way: no Tuel — and that’s something Bills fans can all be happy about.