Bills vs. Patriots: grade EJ Manuel's NFL debut

Tom Szczerbowski

In his first game as a pro quarterback, EJ Manuel threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns in nearly leading the Bills to an upset of Tom Brady and the Patriots. How do you think his performance graded out?

Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel made his Buffalo Bills debut yesterday, completing 18-of-27 passes for 150 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 105.5 in the Bills' 23-21 home loss to the New England Patriots.

Like the offense on the whole, Manuel started out slowly; he didn't surpass 50 passing yards until late in the first half, when he followed up a 19-yard seam throw to Scott Chandler with an 18-yard touchdown toss to fellow rookie Robert Woods. His hot hand continued on the first drive of the second half, when he connected with Fred Jackson for 11 yards on a 3rd-and-6, then threw a nifty 18-yard touchdown lob to Stevie Johnson to give the Bills a 21-17 lead.

Manuel had receivers drop passes on him; Chandler had a pass glance off his hands on a 15-20 yard route, and Johnson dropped a third-and-one conversion that proved to be critical as the Bills tried and failed to sustain drives in the fourth quarter. Neither throw was perfect - the Chandler toss was high, even for the 6'7" tight end, and the throw to Johnson was a bit wide - but the ball hit the receiver in the hands both times, as well.

It was also easy to see that Manuel is still working to be on the same page as his top receivers; everyone seemed slightly out of sync. He badly under-threw Woods on a deep pass down the left sideline, narrowly avoiding an interception. There was a miscommunication with Johnson late in the fourth quarter, where Johnson hooked off a route as Manuel led him further up the field. Manuel also had T.J. Graham open down the left sideline late, but threw a bad ball that sailed out of bounds with no opportunity for a play from Graham.

There were also three instances in which Manuel had lengthy completions called back due to penalty. One was a 19-yard strike to Woods, called back by a Cordy Glenn illegal hands to the face flag. Chandler was called on a block in the back on an 8-yard screen to C.J. Spiller, and a Kraig Urbik illegal hands to the face penalty negated a 15-yard third down conversion to Jackson (on, by the way, one of Manuel's poorer throws of the day - Jackson made an outstanding catch, essentially scooping the ball off the turf).

In all, it was a bit of a mixed bag for Manuel in his pro debut. Running a fairly basic and somewhat surprisingly conservative game plan, Manuel avoided big mistakes, made some bad throws and a few more good throws, avoided pressure with his legs and watched as his teammates cost the offense bigger opportunities. How did you think Manuel's debut graded out, Bills fans?

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