As expected, after yesterday, the Bills are in the market for a quarterback and a punter.
It was the predictable fallout from Thursday night’s discouraging, 37-24 loss to the Browns in Cleveland.
To be sure, the defeat by an eminently beatable opponent was a setback in that it was a game Buffalo needed to win to verify its progress under new coach Doug Marrone.
But the Bills have also turned losing must-win games into a cottage industry.
One defeat early on, though, doesn’t necessarily wreck a season.
However a personnel loss can ... especially when it’s to the starting quarterback.
The minute rookie first-round draft choice EJ Manuel went down with a sprained knee at the end of a scramble in the third-quarter, the effect of Buffalo’s gamble at that position was obvious.
A decision was made during training camp that the Bills would go with only two quarterbacks, both rookies. There was Manuel and the undrafted Jeff Tuel.
In addition, a trade acquisition from Detroit, Thaddeus Lewis, a young, untested veteran, was added to the practice squad.
WHEN MANUEL was hurt as he raced for the sideline after picking up a key first down, Tuel found himself in the classic no-win circumstance.
He hadn’t played a down in the regular season and, because of the short week, got precious few reps in practice.
Tuel looked every bit the wide-eyed rookie, going 8-for-20 through the air, being sacked twice and throwing the killer scoring interception that ended Buffalo’s final possession.
His passer rating was a puny 31.2.Manuel wasn’t much better, going 11-for-20 for 129 yards and was sacked twice en route to a 74.8 rating through the air.
But he moved the team and his fateful scramble positioned the Bills for the touchdown that produced a temporary 24-17 lead.
Had Manuel not been injured, he might have been able to hold that lead, but once the Browns went back ahead, you just knew Tuel wasn’t the QB to engineer a rally.
So what now for Buffalo?
Marrone said Manuel will be out “a few weeks and we’ll reevaluate him then.”
Is that two weeks ... or 10?
Even the coach isn’t sure with running back Fred Jackson and linebacker Arthur Moats having suffered a similar injury and required different recovery times.
What Marrone did indicate on Friday was that Tuel isn’t a guaranteed starter a week from Sunday against Cincinnati. He said the veteran Buffalo signs might just get the call if he knows the offense.
The problem is, what’s out there?
Two of the available QBs the Bills have already waived once. Last year’s backup, Tyler Thigpen, isn’t on a roster and Matt Leinart, who was awful after being signed in preseason while Manuel nursed a tweaked knee, is also unemployed.
Then there are former Steelers Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich.
Of course, the cliched elephant in the room is Josh Freeman.
But that’s subtraction by addition.
There’s a reason the Buccaneers waived him earlier this week and ate millions of dollars on his generous contract.
Whoever signs Freeman will have to pay him the NFL’s minimum for a veteran with his experience, $715,000, with Tampa Bay covering the other seven figures.
But this is a quarterback who skipped the team photo, was habitually late for meetings, then demanded a trade when coach Greg Schiano benched him in favor of rookie Mike Glennon.
And, oh yeah, there was the leak that Freeman was in the NFL’s substance abuse program.
That’s more baggage than was on the Titanic.
The last thing the young Bills roster needs is a disruptive, me-first personality in the lockerroom.
And what happens when Manuel comes back?
His performance through nearly 4 3/4 games was uneven, but produced some reason for optimism. He needs a full opportunity to show whether he is, in fact, Buffalo’s franchise quarterback.
Do the Bills really want a pouting Freeman when Manuel rightly retakes the job?
The reality is, Marrone will have a considerably easier time finding a punter to replace the disappointing Shawn Powell, than he will coming up with a temporary QB.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)