EJ Manuel poised, but unspectacular in loss

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- If consistency is the trait the Buffalo Bills are looking for in a franchise quarterback, then they've found their guy.

Rookie EJ Manuel, making his NFL debut on Sunday's 23-21 loss to the New England Patriots, picked up right where he left off before a knee injury derailed his preseason.

Completing 18 of 27 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, it was the same performance that Buffalo received from their first-round pick in each of his two August appearances.

"When you talk about tests and process and what you're doing when you're developing quarterbacks, when he was out there it didn't seem any different than what's going on," head coach Doug Marrone said. "That's encouraging, and we'll keep working with him."

Now with three games under his belt -- two preseason and one regular season -- Manuel has yet to throw an interception in game action. He had two close calls on Sunday, but managed to come away without any turnovers. He underthrew receiver Robert Woods in the first quarter, with Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard nearly coming down with the pick, and later had an interception by cornerback Kyle Arrington deep in Bills territory overturned by official review.

Manuel, the first quarterback chosen in April's draft, stuck mostly to shorter throws and check-downs on Sunday, a trend that has carried over from the preseason. The results weren't always there: the Bills couldn't move the ball when they needed to late in the fourth quarter, with a 4-yard completion from Manuel to tight end Scott Chandler ending the drive on 3rd-and-10.

"To say that here he goes out and it's a stellar performance ... he's very critical of himself," Marrone said. "Make no mistake, we have high expectations, as we do the other players. He'll get better, but there are some things out there that he will improve on. We left some plays out there."

The best two throws of Manuel's afternoon were his two touchdown passes. He lofted an 18-yard touchdown to Woods with seconds remaining in the first half, and gave the Bills the lead on another 18-yard lob to Steve Johnson to cap an 80-yard drive at the start of the second half.

"Obviously with every play I was continuing to get more and more confidence in myself and continuing to relax," Manuel said. "Stay calm throughout the whole thing and stay poised as a quarterback."

After connecting with Woods for a touchdown, Manuel ran down the field, ripping his helmet off in excitement. It was a rare moment of youthful exuberance from the normally straitlaced quarterback.

"I was very calm. I was very confident in the game plan we had going into the game," Manuel said. "I knew it was my first time out there. We just want to go out and win. But we didn't. And we've just got to move on to the next week."