Last week, I told a friend that I wasn’t expecting a Bills win in the opener against the Patriots. I just had two wishes for the game: I wanted to keep it close, and I wanted to see some positives from our rookie quarterback and our new-look defense.
Well, EJ Manuel showed incredible signs of promise and our defense gave (for the most part) a fantastic performance against the Bills killer himself, Tom Brady. But I’d be lying to say those positive thoughts were on my mind as Stephen Gostkowski’s game winning field goal sailed through the uprights.
They weren’t even in the back of my mind.
I, along with every Bills fan, was hanging my head, questioning why it always seems to end like this. Why our star wide receiver’s inability to haul in a very catchable pass on a simple crossing route may have very well been our undoing. Why we could put all 53 players on defense for crucial third downs and Brady would still thread the needle to another tiny wideout for a deflating first down. Why another game that held so much hope and excitement once again ended with the entire fan base muttering the words “because we’re the Bills”.
But despite all those questions and all of the “what if’s” from the game, once I was able to step back and look at it, I could admit to myself that this loss was different. In 2012, the Bills entered the season with high hopes only to go into the Meadowlands and get trounced by a Jets team that, as we found out, wasn’t good at all. Flash forward to opening day of 2013 and there was a different feeling in defeat. This game showed promise. This game kept me believing. This game made me look forward to week 2. This game left me excited about the quarterback position in Buffalo (!!!).
Entering the game, all eyes were on EJ Manual, and rightfully so. He was the first quarterback taken in the 2013 draft, and as recent history shows us, the days of “draft ‘em and let ‘em learn” are over. The recent trend of rookie starting quarterbacks had Bills’ fans ready to see EJ take the field since the moment his name was called in Radio City Music Hall, and I’d say he gave them what they wanted.
While he didn’t put up monster numbers, the rookie QB played very solid, nearly mistake-free football. He managed the offense well, and made some very nice throws when he needed to, including a big-league pass to Stevie Johnson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
With the exception of a bad decision that ended in a was-then-wasn’t interception, he showed great decision making all afternoon, and he showed us that his legs are healthy, and will certainly be a weapon that opposing defenses will have to account for.
Again, 18/27 for 150 yards aren’t stats that just jump off the page, and EJ will have to show that he can go downfield more consistently going forward, but we’re talking about a rookie quarterback in his first ever NFL start going up against the landlord of the AFC East. EJ showed poise in the pocket, but knew when to get out of Dodge, resulting in zero sacks for a Patriots defense that was certainly keen on trying to get in the rook’s head. He also didn’t create turnovers (wish we could say the same for the rest of his team) which is another excellent sign. The touchdown to interception ratio is often a good measure of success for QBs, and while it’s just one week, EJ is out in front with 2 TDs and zero INTs.
As we saw on Sunday, teams will definitely be keying in on CJ Spiller and forcing EJ to beat them with his arm. The good news is, I think EJ will be up to the task. The starting offense did not get much time together in the preseason. Things will continue to click and both EJ and CJ will continue to elevate their games. I think big things lie ahead.
Overall, I give EJ a B+ for his performance. Obviously 150 yards passing isn’t going to get it done many Sundays, but I’m grading a bit on a first-game curve, and EJ passed with flying colors.
I can’t wait to see what he does in week 2.
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