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Manuel looked like the QB Bills expected

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Posted: Monday, December 16, 2013 10:20 am

So what do we make of the Bills now?

And quarterback EJ Manuel for that matter?

If nothing else, Sunday’s 27-20 victory over the Jaguars in Jacksonville merely complicated the confusion.

To be sure, it wasn’t a milestone win.

At 4-10, the Jags are tied for the NFL’s third-worst record and rank last in the league in both points scored and yards gained.

But, in fairness to the Bills, Jacksonville had won four of its previous five games and it was a rare road victory for Buffalo which, at 5-9, is exactly where it was under Chan Gailey last season after 14 games.

WHAT MADE this game so interesting, though, was Manuel.

The way he started, it appeared the Bills’ biggest and most immediate draft need was a quarterback.

In Buffalo’s first 13 offensive plays, the rookie from Florida State was 1-for-5 passing with an interception, was sacked three times and twice was tackled for a loss on runs, fumbling on one of them.

But, for the rest of the game, he was 16-of-19 through the air with two TD tosses and a 8-yard touchdown run.

He played with poise and patience and looked every bit the QB Buffalo expected when it took him with the 16th overall pick last April.

Which QB is he though?

The one who struggled so mightily early that a better team would have capitalized on every mistake and won going away or the skilled game manager who got the Bills back into the lead and kept them there?

And though Manuel passed for only 193 yards, it was because he got so much help from the running game as Fred Jackson went for 80 yards on 17 carries and C.J. Spiller 67 on 13 tries as Buffalo totaled 198 yards on the ground.

And the Jackson/Spiller tandem also tied a Bills’ franchise record that has stood for 38 years until Sunday.

With their production against the Jags, Spiller has 745 yards on the season and Jackson 735, making them the only two Buffalo backs to have at least 700 yards in the same campaign since 1975 when O.J. Simpson (1,817) and Jim Braxton (823) did it.

AND BUFFALO fans who have lamented their team’s lack of good fortune can stow that talk after Sunday.

With the Bills up 20-10 early in the third period, Jags’ reserve running back Denard Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback, broke loose for a seemingly easy touchdown.

But just as the rookie was about complete a 25-yard TD run, Bills’ strong safety Aaron Williams came across, slapped the ball loose and it rolled through the end zone for a touchback.

Yeah, it was a great play ... but rarely does Buffalo get such a break.

And how about cornerback Stephon Gilmore?

Last year’s first-round draft choice who had one interception in his first 23 games as a pro, has had one in each of the past two games, Sunday’s in the end zone clinching the victory after Jacksonville had driven to the Buffalo 5-yard in a bid for the tying TD with three minutes to play.

DEFENSIVELY, there was plenty of good news.

Buffalo, already leading the NFL in sacks, got five more — by as many different players — and now has 49 on the season ... or 3 1/2 per game.

And, the wealth has been spread.

End Mario Williams is the team leader with 12, fellow end Jerry Hughes, the trade acquisition from Indianapolis for Kelvin Sheppard, has nine and tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus have eight apiece.

Impressively, the Bills are the first NFL team, since the 2006 Ravens, to have four players with at least eight sacks in the same season.

Then, too, Buffalo, second in the league in interceptions, added two more as, besides Gilmore, Aaron Williams, got his fourth, tying him for the team lead.

He also continues to prove the wisdom of moving him from cornerback, where he struggled for two seasons, to safety where he continues to stand out.

Against the Jags he forced two takeaways and ranks second on the team in tackles behind only surprisingly productive rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Yeah, there were downers ... as in letting Jacksonville, averaging 285 yards per game, mount 354 including 159 on the ground, more than double what the Jags total (76) per game.

But in a season like this, it’s hard to be critical of any Buffalo victory ... especially on the road.

 (Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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