Doug Marrone made a noble gesture Friday night when he inserted Kevin Kolb with the starting offense for the Bills’ second preseason game. The decision was made in the interest of fairness. Rookie EJ Manuel looked good last week with the starters, but it was only right to grant Kolb the same opportunity.
OK, now that they’re even, can we end this charade the Bills call a quarterback competition and get on with the season?
If anything became evident Friday against the Vikings, it was that Manuel deserves to be the Bills’ starting quarterback and Kolb is nothing more than a backup. The veteran might as well grab his cap, headset and clipboard and assume his position on the sideline for the foreseeable future.
It wasn’t so much that Manuel dominated Friday, although he played well again against the Vikings. Kolb had his chance and threw it away.
Long-suffering Bills fans didn’t waste much time telling him, of course. The boo birds started singing on his first attempt, when he threw a one-hopper to C.J. Spiller that would have been an easy completion for any competent quarterback. His second attempt was intercepted. His fourth could have been returned for a touchdown.
Man, it was ugly.
Kolb was so bad in his five series against the Vikings’ starters that you started longing for Ryan Fitzpatrick as an insurance policy, big contract and all. At that point, Kolb had completed 3 of 8 passes for 17 yards and one interception. His quarterback rating: 6.3. That’s not a typo, folks. Six-point-three.
He was booed after throwing the interception, a poor pass that was behind rookie Marquise Goodwin and batted into the hands of Jamarca Sanford. He was booed off the field after trumping a terrible pass behind open tight end Lee Smith with a worse one that fell behind wide receiver Chris Hogan.
Fans were chanting, “We want EJ” in the sixth series, when Kolb settled down against the Vikings’ backups and padded his stats late in the first half. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 111 yards before sitting down. He could have completed several of his passes while sitting down. Seven of his completions were for 5 or fewer yards. In other words, he was Fitz.
It wasn’t all terrible. Kolb completed passes of 21 and 22 yards inside the final 30 seconds of the first half when the Vikings’ secondary was in soft coverage. Overall, though, it was a mess. He did nothing to convince anyone that he would mount any realistic challenge against Manuel before the season opens against New England.
If there was any doubt, it ended when Manuel took the Bills on an 80-yard scoring drive on his first series after assuming command in the third quarter. He completed all six passes and found Brad Smith for a touchdown pass to give the Bills a 20-3 lead. Kolb, wearing a baseball cap customary for the backup, watched from the sidelines while Manuel completed 10 of 12 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Kolb had best get comfortable.
Let’s remember that Kolb didn’t need to play slightly better than Manuel to be considered for the starting job. He needed to be better by a mile. The Bills have a new coaching staff, a new offense and a new quarterback. They’re looking for reasons to start Manuel and begin the future with their young, shining star.
Kolb has been off target too often during training camp. He didn’t help his cause when he failed to negotiate a slippery mat in practice. In fact, his career has been going down a slippery slope for years. He’s in his seventh NFL season and has never enjoyed any real success. The Bills are his third team in four years.
If anything, his performance Friday confirmed what many suspected all along: He can’t be trusted over an extended period. If you’re looking for something positive, he was flawless with his handoffs to Spiller and Fred Jackson. He threw a few decent passes. But he didn’t inspire anyone.
It falls in line with his career. He was a promising player, one who had the fourth-most passing yards in Division I history when the Eagles took him in the second round in 2007. Kolb was hailed as Donovan McNabb’s replacement, a potential savior. By the looks of things Friday, he’s trying to save his career.
Kolb failed to win the starting job when Michael Vick was released from prison. He spent four pedestrian seasons in Philly and was sent packing. The Eagles did him a favor when they shipped him to Arizona, which signed him to a $63 million contract that included $20 million guaranteed. Now, at age 28, he’s still trying to find himself.
Kolb has had flashes of brilliance. He torched Miami for 324 yards and three touchdowns last season. He threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns against Atlanta in 2010. He had 391 yards against New Orleans in 2009. In between, he had too many bad games, threw too many wayward passes and suffered through too many injuries.
All told, he has averaged 153 yards passing per game while throwing 28 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions over his first six seasons. Add his 78.9 career passing rating, and you have mediocrity.
Kolb will need to make peace with the idea that he’s no different from the man he replaced while collecting $1.65 million this season. He’s what Fitz was – a temporary solution, a spare tire, a good soldier, a backup. Fitz was sent packing shortly after the ink was dry on a deal that guaranteed him $21 million.
The Bills don’t need another Fitz in their offense. They need a quarterback who fits into their offense.
They have their man in Manuel. Kolb made the decision for them.