If your enthusiasm for the coming Bills’ season was tempered by rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s knee injury a week ago Friday ay “The Ralph,” how do you feel today?
Buffalo was embarrassed by Washington, 30-7, yesterday afternoon at FedEx Field and every single positive that emerged from the Bills’ 2-0 preseason start was undermined by the Redskins.
Suddenly, there are major questions everywhere — offense, defense and special teams — with four players to be cut by Monday, and the final preseason game booked for Thursday night at Orchard Park against the Lions.
Saturday’s effort was so disturbing, even new coach Doug Marrone, who has done most everything right in his first year as an NFL boss, pulled a major rock.
The best thing about this fiasco is that the Bills play again in only four days.
But the problems exposed by this uninspired effort likely can’t be fixed that quickly.
LET’S START with the offense ... specifically quarterback.
With Manuel, who had seemingly won the starting job, sidelined for the remaining preseason games by a “minor” surgical procedure on his knee, it seemed that veteran Kevin Kolb, ostensibly the backup, would get some much-needed reps against the Redskins as the starter.
Instead he played exactly two series ... 13 plays. That translated to 2-of-4 passing for 11 yards and a pair of rushes for 12 yards, the second an 8-yarder that ended with an inadvertent knee-to-the-head that produced concussion-like symptoms and precipitated his eventual exit from the game.
That meant rookie Jeff Tuel, the league-leading No. 3 quarterback in preseason snaps — six full quarters-plus — played the final 47 minutes of the game ... with no back-up.
And that’s not a shot at Marrone, who made a decision to go with three QBs ... which is normally plenty, especially halfway through preseason.
But this month has served as a cautionary tale for Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Manuel, likely on a scramble, suffered a knee injury ... seemingly short-term in a win over the Vikings.
Kolb sprained his knee when he slipped on a rubber mat changing fields at training camp, then missed time due to a death in the family. Now the former Eagle and Cardinal has symptoms of a concussion and his return is an open question ... and certainly profoundly unlikely for Detroit.
For the Manuel faithful, that’s good news.
He dramatically out-performed Kolb, albeit circumstantially, in his three quarters of preseason action and has earned the start two weeks from today against the Patriots ... presuming he can practice during prep week for that game.
But, short-term, Tuel is Buffalo’s only quarterback against the Lions. Do they sign some quickly-to-be-cut free agent or have wide receiver and former quarterback Brad Smith , whose job is already in jeopardy, study for the back-up role for that game?
This also occurs to me.
Hackett’s no-huddle, get-to-the-line-quickly attack is great ... if it works.
Against Washington, the Bils, excluding penalties, had nine 3-and-outs in 11 possessions, producing a staggering 17-minute edge in time of possession for the Redskins.
And, while we’re on the offense, let’s also deal with Marrone’s appalling gaffe.
In the first quarter, running back C.J. Spiller, inarguably the Bills’ best player, seemed gimpy after a 19-yard first-quarter run but two plays later scored on a short TD dive.
But, once in the end zone, Spiller reached for his knee as trainer Bud Carpenter and the medical staff sprinted to his side. After a delay — frightening to Bills’ fans — he left the field on his own, without a limp.
But a series later, Spiller was back on the field, albeit for two carries.
Yo, Doug, he told you he was OK after that scare ... but, this just in, C.J. plays the easiest NFL position to assimilate, he’s in fantastic shape — as he’s already shown — your job is to make sure he doesn’t get hurt in a meaningless game.
And you put him back in?
We’ve spent the whole preseason slobbering over new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his attacking unit.
Against the Redskins, playing their No. 3 and 4 QBs — Rex Grossman and Pat White (with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins injured) — Buffalo surrendered a numbing 208 rushing yards ... nearly five per carry, against quarterbacks who logically should have been forced to throw,
As TV play-by-play man Ray Bentley noted, “If you can’t stop the run ... you’re defenseless.”
And that let Grossman and White, who averaged nearly eight yards a carry with a touchdown on the ground running the read-option, combine to go 18-of-35 for 267 yards and a TD with no interceptions.
EVEN BUFFALO’S special teams weren’t very good.
A fumble by reserve returner Nickell Robey, who had no business fair-catching a punt at his own 5-yard-line, handed Washington a field goal.
You get the idea.
In short, there’s a lot to watch come Thursday night ... which figures, on offense, to be all-Tuel, all the time.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)