INDIANAPOLIS — EJ Manuel’s pregame edginess was unmistakable to his teammates.
The Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback had delivered snappish pep talks leading up to Sunday’s preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
Bills center Eric Wood relayed what he heard from Manuel: “Come on! Let’s do this! We gotta get this thing going!’ … Kind of pressing, but that’s good. You want a quarterback that cares.”
On the Lucas Oil Stadium field before Manuel’s debut, the Bills noticed he was tense.
“I think he warmed up an abnormally long time,” Wood said. “He was throwing a lot of balls. Maybe that’s what he does. He wanted to be precise, knowing that we might not play the whole game.”
Manuel apparently didn’t wear himself out, Wood noted.
“His best drive,” Wood said, “was his last one.”
Manuel struggled to move the ball against the Colts’ starters, but capped the first half with an efficient two-minute drill that led to a touchdown in a 44-20 victory.
Manuel took the Bills 92 yards on 10 plays, finding tight end Dorin Dickerson up the seam for a go-ahead, 17-yard touchdown.
“The two-minute drill was impressive,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said.
Manuel played the first half. Undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, with veteran quarterback Kevin Kolb held out because he hasn’t practiced in over a week, played the rest. Tuel completed 19-of-23 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
But what Manuel did right before halftime was the highlight.
“That’s really where quarterbacks are measured,” Manuel said. “As far as my maturing process in this offense and being a pro, I think I showed that I can go out there and matriculate the ball down the field.”
Manuel sputtered early but finished with oomph, as he did in the Bills’ intrasquad scrimmage last Monday night.
On his first six series, Manuel completed seven of his 12 attempts for 39 yards. He was charged with a fumble on a botched handoff to C.J. Spiller.
“It’s all about relaxing,” Manuel said. “Obviously, it’s my first time out there. I wanted to do great.”
Manuel’s last possession began on the 8-yard line with 1:50 to go. Marrone said he thought about running out the clock, but decided to use the opportunity to learn more about his quarterback.
Indianapolis’ defense was comprised mostly of third-stringers and reserves who might not make the final roster. Even so, they were NFL players.
Manuel, behind Buffalo’s starting offensive line, completed all nine of his passes (a throwaway was negated by a Colts penalty) for 68 yards. Buffalo didn’t reach third down the entire series.
“Obviously, you’re excited about what the quarterback did,” Marrone said. “But I think the other thing is you’ve got to remember there’s a whole football team watching this thing.
“When you talk about players believing in themselves – the defense is watching it; everyone’s watching it – here’s this guy right out of college, and here he comes.”
The preseason means little to some people. But it’s not irrelevant, especially for a developing quarterback.
Wood, a fifth-year pro, was asked to put Manuel’s performance into perspective.
“It’s a great way to set the tone,” Wood said. “You never want to come out and lay an egg in the preseason. It doesn’t breed any confidence.
“And from a team that hasn’t won a whole lot in the past few years, coming out and playing like this in the preseason is what we needed to do.”
Manuel graded his performance a “B.” He seemed generally pleased but far from giddy.
“It’s the real deal. It’s The Show,” Manuel said. “I thought we did a good job as a team, going out there and still getting the win.
“Even though it’s preseason, we still want to go out there and give a good product and win games. So moving forward I know it’s going to give us a lot of confidence.”