AFC East: Buffalo Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills were without a pair of defensive starters at Wednesday's practice.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams and linebacker Nigel Bradham, who both left Sunday's loss to the Houston Texans with knee injuries, were in the practice bubble while the rest of the team was on the field. Bradham, who was wearing a brace on his left knee, worked with trainers.

Starting left guard Chris Williams (back) and special teams ace Marcus Easley (knee) also remained out.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) and linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) were both back at practice Wednesday.
Welcome to the the first day of the Kyle Orton era in Buffalo.

Cameras will stay glued to No. 18 at the start of practice, Orton's teammates will talk about how they're rallying around their new quarterback and by late afternoon, a sense of normalcy and optimism will have returned.

Apologies for the spoilers.

In truth, Orton gives the Bills the best chance at making the playoffs this season. Monday's move makes sense: the Bills were spinning their wheels with EJ Manuel and couldn't continue to hold their breath, hoping something clicked the next time he walked onto the field.

There was too much at stake. The AFC East is a wide open, mediocre showcase of two unpredictable young quarterbacks, a languishing former MVP and, now, a handsomely-paid Iowan with a mustache and a pickup truck.

Orton will be given every opportunity to earn his salary -- he'll pocket $5.5 million this season and can take home another $5.5 million next season -- if he can show that he's simply better than Manuel. With such an up-for-grabs division, that may be all it takes to get the Bills into the playoffs.

Beginning Wednesday, that will be the best-case scenario for Orton and the Bills. If they can take advantage of the bumbling New England Patriots, the Jekyll & Hyde Miami Dolphins, and the sliding New York Jets, anything is possible by December.

In that case, Orton leads the Bills into the playoffs, Manuel is an afterthought and the quarterback situation is revisited in the offseason. In all likelihood, the current regime stays and Manuel tags along for a third season, probably as a backup.

Yet Orton is still a flawed quarterback. He never panned out with the Chicago Bears, he lost his job to Tim Tebow in Denver and he never really nipped at Tony Romo's heels in Dallas.

It may not work out for Orton in Buffalo. What if he proves no more capable than Manuel in winning games? Or what if he is no more than adequate as a quarterback but the Bills find other ways to lose?

If there's such as a thing as "salary cap hell," then there has to be a "quarterback purgatory" and the Bills would be in it.

They wouldn't be able to move forward at the position: just about any of next spring's first-round quarterbacks would be out of reach for the front office -- or whatever would be left of it in this scenario.

The Bills could move backward and try to salvage something from Manuel, but by that point -- assuming a string of loses from Orton -- the season would be on the ropes. Late season see-saws between raw and washed-up quarterbacks rarely go well.

It could get ugly. But then again, it could all work out. We'll just have to wait and see.

Starting Wednesday, the stakes are high.

The Film Don't Lie: Bills

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the Buffalo Bills must fix:

After watching film Monday, Bills coach Doug Marrone already made the biggest change that he could make to his team, benching starting quarterback EJ Manuel. Backup Kyle Orton will start Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

However, it's still worth diving deeper into Sunday's 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans and identifying where the offense struggled, because it wasn't just about Manuel.

We'll put the focus on the offensive line, which allowed 16 quarterback hits and whose suspect pass protection didn't do Manuel any favors in what became his final start of his initial run in Buffalo.

Yes, the Texans had J.J. Watt. He's arguably the NFL's best defensive player and he gave the Bills' offensive line fits all day. But the Texans were without first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and were starting 34-year-old nose tackle Ryan Pickett, who signed last week. It could have been much worse.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bills' offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage on just 34.6 percent of pass plays, more than 4 percentage points lower than any other team in any game this season. Only two games -- from the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7 and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9 -- were worse last season.

Pass protection can often be a game-specific problem, so the best solution if a quarterback is under pressure is to shorten drops and add a strong dose of screen passes to keep pass-rushers honest. To some extent, the Bills did that Sunday.

But if the Bills are looking to make more of a change that carries over into Sunday, when they'll have to slow down Ndamukong Suh and the Lions' defensive line, one option is to use more play-action. The Bills ran play-action on just five of their 69 snaps Sunday.

While play-action typically keeps the ball in the quarterback's hands longer, it can also allow the offensive line to play more aggressively. That could be the right medicine for a line that was on its heels all afternoon Sunday.
video EJ Manuel's NFL career is at a crossroads.

Benched Monday after posting a 6-8 record through his first 14 starts, Manuel showed poor enough play for coach Doug Marrone to turn to veteran Kyle Orton for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. If Orton plays well, the Bills may never look back.

Manuel, who sat pensive at his locker after the Bills' loss to the Houston Texans last weekend, will now have plenty more time to think about his future.

"He'll have to have some thick skin through this and you've got to fight. That's what usually happens in life. To get what you want, you're going to have to fight for it," Marrone said Monday. "I think that he'll be able to grow. I think that he'll be able to handle it well, from my conversation with him. And he'll be able to continue to grow as a quarterback."

[+] EnlargeManuel
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsIf he wants to return as the Bills long-term starter, EJ Manuel will also have to buck a trend among recent first-round quarterbacks who were benched.
Recent history suggests that Manuel will have a steep hill to climb if he ever wants to see NFL success -- or even re-gain his starting role.

Since 2007, no quarterback selected in the first round has recovered from a benching to again become a full-time NFL starter. The closest bids have come from Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn.

It was Tebow who stormed back in 2011 to take over for Orton, coincidentally, after Tebow lost out to Orton in training camp that season. Tebow's success was short-lived, as was Quinn's brief resurgence with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012.

If Manuel wants to buck a recent NFL trend, he'll have to carve a different path than the other eight first-round quarterbacks taken since 2007 who were also benched:

Brandon Weeden (22nd overall, 2012) -- Started 15 games as a rookie before missing the season finale with an injury. Started the first two games of his second season before an injury; started three more games after injuries to Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell. Now a backup for the Dallas Cowboys.

Blaine Gabbert (10th overall, 2011) -- Started the final 14 games of his rookie season and the first 10 games of his second season before a season-ending injury. Started the first game of his third season before missing two games with an injury; returned to start two more games before being benched. Was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, where he is currently a backup.

Christian Ponder (12th overall, 2011) -- Started the final 10 games of his rookie season and all 16 games of his second season. Started nine games his third season, missing four games with injuries, before he was benched. Remains a backup for the Minnesota Vikings.

Tim Tebow (25th overall, 2010) -- Started the final three games of his rookie season before losing his starting job to Orton at the start of his second season. He returned to start the final 11 games of that season before being traded to the New York Jets. He did not start another game as a quarterback and is currently out of the league.

Mark Sanchez (fifth overall, 2009) -- Started 62 of the first 64 games of his career (four seasons) before losing his starting job to Geno Smith. Was released after his fifth season and is currently a backup for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Josh Freeman (17th overall, 2009) -- Started the final nine games of his rookie season and his next three full seasons after that. He started the first three games of last season before being benched and later released. He signed with the Vikings, started one game, and is currently out of the league.

JaMarcus Russell (first overall, 2007) -- Started the final game of his rookie season, his entire second season, and the first nine games of his third season before being benched. Did not start another game and is currently out of the league.

Brady Quinn (22nd overall, 2007) -- Started parts of his second and third seasons for the Cleveland Browns before losing his job. Did not play for the next two seasons but returned for the Chiefs in 2012 to start eight more games. Currently out of the league.

EJ Manuel at bottom of QBR chart

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
As bad as last week was for EJ Manuel, it got worse Sunday.

Manuel posted a Total QBR of 7.4 in the Buffalo Bills' 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans, the NFL's lowest QBR in Week 4, prior to Monday night's game.

It's the second consecutive week that Manuel has finished at the bottom of the NFL's charts in Total QBR, an advanced statistic developed by ESPN that uses situational and historical data to evaluate quarterbacks.

It's also the first time that an NFL quarterback has recorded a single-digit Total QBR in back-to-back full games since Kansas City's Brady Quinn did so in the final two weeks of the 2012 season.

Manuel now ranks 35th out of 36 qualified NFL quarterbacks in Total QBR. Only Jacksonville's Chad Henne, who lost his starting job last week, has a lower Total QBR than Manuel, whose season average is a 19.8 out of a possible 100.

J.J. Watt torments Bills in latest loss

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
HOUSTON -- At times, it wasn't even fair.

The Buffalo Bills couldn't stop J.J. Watt in Sunday's 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans. No matter where he lined up, he couldn't be blocked. And when he snagged an EJ Manuel pass out of the air in the third quarter, he couldn't be chased down to prevent an 80-yard touchdown.

It was that rumbling score that erased a Bills lead and breathed fire into NRG Stadium. After that point, the Bills had an uphill battle.

"One of the keys was to make sure that he wasn't going to make that big disruptive play prior to the game, and he did," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "He made a lot of plays."

Watt accounted for nine of the Texans' 16 quarterback hits on Manuel. For some perspective, the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, and San Diego Chargers combined for eight hits on Manuel through the Bills' first three games.

He didn't turn off his motor after the game:

Watt was apparently upset at the Bills for some aggression after plays that weren't flagged.

"I was upset. I get personal fouls called against me all day. I get some extracurriculars done to me, and I don't see repercussions on the other side, but that's fine," Watt said. "That's kind of how the game goes when you try to play the way I play. The guy on the other team is gunning for you and trying to rile you up."

Watt and Manuel met frequently in the backfield. Watt was arguably too powerful for his own good, reaching Manuel but being flagged for roughing the passer twice.

Despite the pressure, Manuel said he wasn't too thrown off by Watt.

"He wasn't in my head. J.J. is a great player, and we knew coming in that he was going to have his opportunity to make plays or that he was going to get in the back as much as he could," Watt said. "But no, he wasn't in my head."
HOUSTON -- You can blame quarterback EJ Manuel. You can blame his receivers. You can blame his offensive line.

No matter whose fault it is, the woefully inconsistent play of the Buffalo Bills' passing game should prompt serious questions after Sunday's 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans.

The Bills spent three first-round picks to acquire Manuel and top receiver Sammy Watkins. Given that sort of investment, those two players should be among the team's strengths. Instead, they've been Buffalo's greatest weaknesses through the first quarter of the season.

Besides his eight-catch, 117-yard outing in Week 2, Watkins has been disappointing. His first two targets Sunday were dropped. One week ago, Watkins admitted he "took a play off" when he was unable to catch an accurate Manuel pass late in a loss to San Diego.

Manuel had another characteristically underwhelming game Sunday, when he averaged 3.2 yards per pass attempt before an 80-yard touchdown heave to Mike Williams. It was a throw ex-Bills Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trent Edwards or even J.P. Losman could have made. It was a massive blunder on the Texans' part -- not the sort of play that separates a first-round draft pick such as Manuel from his predecessors.

Then there was an offensive line that could have linked arms, formed a wall and still fail to block J.J. Watt. The NFL's premier defensive player could not be stopped Sunday. He reached Manuel for nine quarterback hits, an eye-opening stat that became a side note to Watt's 80-yard interception return for a touchdown that turned the tide of the game in the third quarter.

"You got young receivers, a second-year quarterback, and you got some [young] guys on the line," Bills coach Doug Marrone said of his team. "They have to grow, and they have to grow fast."

He's right. The Bills can't afford to wait until next season to see how Manuel matures or until 2016 to watch Watkins flourish by his third season. They paid a high price for both of those players and are leaning on both of them now. This is the path the Bills have chosen.

The Bills traded away their first-round pick next season to add Watkins, they spent a second-round pick last season on Robert Woods, and they shipped out a sixth-round pick for the troubled Williams. Yet Manuel threw a combined 27 times to his top three receivers Sunday and completed only nine of those passes.

If you hear an echo, that's because Manuel posted a 33 percent completion rate, identical to his receivers' completion percentage in the past week's loss, when they connected on just seven of his 21 passes to the trio of Watkins, Woods and Williams.

Their collective struggles essentially wasted what was a respectable defensive effort. The Bills won the turnover battle -- they forced two interceptions and one fumble -- and held the Texans to 37 rushing yards.

Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who came away with an acrobatic interception in the second quarter, could only push the defense to do better after they won the turnover battle but lost the game.

"When you win the turnover battle, it's a must win," he said. "You can look at the percentages. ... Once you get two or more turnovers, you're supposed to win the game. We have to do a better of going out there, situational football, make sure we get off the field when we need to. We need to get off the field [and] give the offense more chances to make plays."

The offense had plenty of chances to make plays Sunday. It didn't. And on the whole this season, it hasn't -- even though Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have done their share.

"I think the backs are running well," Marrone said. "I think that when we get into games where we throw as much as we did, that gets us in trouble."

That's accurate, but it shouldn't be the case. Given the Bills' investment in Manuel and Watkins, they've both dropped the ball.

EJ Manuel pensive after Bills' loss

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
HOUSTON -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans:

Quarterback EJ Manuel, who struggled for most of Sunday's game, was one of the last players to leave the Bills' locker room. While most of his teammates changed and headed for the team bus, Manuel sat facing his locker with his head down. A couple of teammates came over to offer Manuel encouragement, but for the most part he was left alone. The second-year quarterback normally is remarkably even-keeled as he meets reporters after games, but I saw a slightly more beleaguered Manuel on Sunday.

Notably, the Bills won the turnover battle against the Texans but still lost the game. "When you win the turnover battle, it's a must win," cornerback Leodis McKelvin said. "You can look at the percentages of that s---, it's supposed to be real low, as far as other teams, once you get two or more turnovers, you're supposed to win the game." McKelvin didn't pin blame on the offense, however, saying the defense needed to get off the field more than it did.

Coach Doug Marrone was asked directly if there was "any consideration or temptation" to turn to backup quarterback Kyle Orton in Sunday's game. "No, no, not at all," Marrone responded.

Bryce Brown among Bills' inactives

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
HOUSTON -- Running back Bryce Brown is among the Buffalo Bills' inactives Sunday against Houston Texans.

Brown is one of three healthy scratches for the Bills, who also de-activated offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and cornerback Ross Cockrell -- their second- and fourth-round picks this year.

Brown, whom the Bills acquired in a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason, has been inactive each of the first four games.

Meanwhile, rookie Cyril Richardson -- a fifth-round pick this year -- will start in place of Chris Williams, who is inactive with a back injury.

Here is the full list of Bills inactives:

Previewing Bills-Texans at NRG Stadium

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
HOUSTON -- Welcome to NRG Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills (2-1) square off with the Houston Texans (2-1) in the Bills' second road game of the season (1 p.m. ET; noon local).

Weather conditions: None. The Texans have their retractable roof closed at NRG Stadium, so the conditions will be perfect. It's warm and muggy outside; temperatures are in the low 80s and there are passing thunderstorms.

Two downgraded: The Bills downgraded starting left guard Chris Williams (back) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) from "doubtful" to "out" on their injury report Saturday. That means the Bills will be without at least four players because of injury: Williams, Goodwin, linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) and wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee). They need to declare three additional inactives.

Two starters probable: Of the six players who were declared probable for Sunday's game, the two situations to watch the most are linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) and safety Da'Norris Searcy (ankle). They were both limited in practice throughout this week. Both should play. In Rivers' case, it would be his first action since leaving the season opener with an injury. Searcy left last week's game.

Vinovich gets the call: Bill Vinovich, who is in his second stint as an NFL official, is Sunday's referee.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- I bet Joe Schaffer was never fined for wearing red socks.

The NFL has come a long way since Schaffer -- the Buffalo Bills' first-ever player -- roamed the field. Nowadays, fashion statements will draw five-digit fines from the league.

That's exactly what happened this week to Bills wide receiver Mike Williams, whom the NFL fined $11,025 for wearing off-color socks in Sunday's 22-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

It's the second fine this season against Williams, who was also docked $5,512 for an unspecified uniform violation in the season opener.

Williams, who arrived from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an offseason trade, wore all-red socks Sunday instead of his team-issued blue and white pair. He says it’s all part of an effort to loosen up the Bills’ locker room.

"I try to put all the attention on me. Because everything I’ve been through, I know I can handle it," Williams told ESPN. "I even do a big show before the game, let everybody know what I’m dressing on. Make fun in the locker room, just put all the attention on me so everybody else can go out and play.

"If we win, it’s all worth it. When you lose, that’s when you’re like, 'Should I do it?' But the money goes to somewhere good."

Meanwhile, Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes was fined $8,268 for an apparent head-butt of Chargers offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger last Sunday. Spikes, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play, was fined the same amount in Week 1 for a late hit against the Chicago Bears.

Chris Williams remains out for Bills

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills were without starting left guard Chris Williams at the start of Thursday's practice.

Williams missed Wednesday's practice after leaving Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers with a back injury.

In Williams' place, the Bills used rookie Cyril Richardson as their first-team left guard in warm-ups Thursday.

Wide receivers Marquise Goodwin (illness) and Marcus Easley (knee), as well as linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) were not on the practice field Thursday.

EJ Manuel added to Bills' injury report

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel was added to the team's injury report Wednesday with abdominal soreness.

"He came in, he had some soreness," coach Doug Marrone said. "Since he's a high-profile player, you got to put him down."

"I'm fine," Manuel said. "I think any time you bring something to a trainer they have to put it up there, but I'm good to go."

Starting left guard Chris Williams did not participate in Wednesday's practice but Marrone said he could return Thursday.

Linebacker Keith Rivers, who returned after missing Friday's practice, was again a limited participant Wednesday.

Did not participate:
WR Marcus Easley (knee)
LB Randell Johnson (knee)
G Chris Williams (back)

Limited participation:
LB Keith Rivers (groin)
S Da'Norris Searcy (ankle)
WR Marquise Goodwin (illness)

Full participation:
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)
QB EJ Manuel (abdominal)
WR Robert Woods (ankle)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It won't exactly be a homecoming, but the Buffalo Bills will face an old friend Sunday when they square off with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Houston Texans.

While Fitzpatrick admitted Wednesday it "would have been cool" for his first game against his former team to come at Ralph Wilson Stadium, he joked that support is still strong for him in Buffalo.

"I think it's amazing that there now more [number] 14 jerseys than there were when I was there," Fitzpatrick quipped. "I think the support for me has really grown, especially in the last year -- for some reason -- since the draft. I think that's really cool.

"Is there a new 14 on the team?"

Yes, times have indeed changed. The ever-personable Fitzpatrick once wore No. 14 for the Bills, but that jersey number now belongs to rookie receiver Sammy Watkins.

In all seriousness, Fitzpatrick acknowledged that Sunday's tilt against his former team will have a different feeling.

"This is a special game for me. I think partly just because I have so many great friends, still, that are over on the other side of the ball. Guys that I'm going to be excited to watch," he said. "I'm sure they're going to be excited to hit me and watch me play."

After the Bills hired Doug Marrone as head coach in the 2013 offseason, Fitzpatrick met with the new coaching staff and tried to work out a contract restructuring to stay with the team.

"It just did happen, didn't work out. So I moved on. I would have loved to stay in Buffalo and all that. Things happen. Things happen for a reason," Fitzpatrick said. "There's definitely no hard feelings with the way that it went down. I think the little added extra whatever it is is more so because of the guys I'm playing against, and just having so many good buddies."

The Harvard product served as the Bills' starting quarterback from midway through the 2009 season through the end of the 2012 season. Fitzpatrick had high praise Wednesday for his time in Buffalo.

"The four years we spent there and how much we enjoyed the city of Buffalo and our neighbors and all the fans; what a great experience it was for us," Fitzpatrick said. "I welcomed there with open arms right away and fell in love with the people. We did. We really loved our four years there and outside of football made a lot of lifelong friends that we'll keep in touch with forever."

Fitzpatrick has four children but said their loyalties may not lie with his current team.

"I'm still trying to convince my 7-year old -- in this game at least -- to be a Texans fan and not a Bills fan," he said. "And then my youngest daughter was born in Buffalo, so we're kind of a torn household right now but I'm trying to convince them that we got to root for the Texans now."

He and his wife, Liza, have a fifth child on the way.

"We're continuing to add. I don't when we're going to stop," he said. "I'm just trying to have more than Freddy [Jackson]."

Keith Rivers returns to Bills practice

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) returned to practice Wednesday.

Rivers missed last Friday's practice and did not play in Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers. It's unclear how much Rivers will participate in Wednesday's practice; he was a limited participant in Wednesday and Thursday's sessions last week.

Meanwhile, linebacker Nigel Bradham was not at practice Wednesday for personal/family reasons. He is expected back at the facility later Wednesday.

Starting left guard Chris Williams, who left Sunday's game with a back injury, was not at practice. Rookie Cyril Richardson is expected to take over in his place.

Linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) and wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) also were not on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice.