Doug Marrone insists backup quarterback Jeff Tuel was ready to enter the lineup Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns.
The results, however, told a different story during the Buffalo Bills’ 37-24 loss at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Tuel, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Washington State, came into the game in the third quarter in place of EJ Manuel, who was lost for the night because of a knee injury.
The Bills’ offense sputtered badly from that point on. In Tuel’s first three full series, Buffalo went three and out. On the next, he led them to one first down before they had to punt.
Finally, with the Bills trailing, 30-24, Tuel got the ball back with 2:19 to play and a chance to drive the team to an improbable victory. Tuel, however, wasn’t up to the task, throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Browns safety T.J. Ward.
“Just a misread on my part,” Tuel said.
Because of the short week, practice reps were limited for Tuel, coach Doug Marrone said.
“I’m not going to stand here and say it didn’t,” Marrone said when asked whether that had a direct impact on Tuel’s performance. “Did it hurt Jeff? Yeah, I think that hurt him.”
Tuel finished the night 8 of 20 for 80 yards and one interception for a passer rating of 31.2. He was sacked twice.
“It took me a little bit to get going. It’s been a while since I’ve had any live bullets like that,” he said. “Especially against ‘ones’ like that, but after just a few snaps I felt like I settled in there a little bit and was seeing better and slowing down a little bit.”
He was asked after the game whether he felt he was put in an “impossible” situation.
“Absolutely not. Impossible is not the right word,” he said. “It’s the situation of any backup quarterback in the league. You have to be ready to go when your number’s called and perform at a high level.”
The Bills put their faith in Tuel before the season by not bringing in another veteran quarterback to compete with him after Kevin Kolb was placed on injured reserve because of a concussion. At least Thursday night, that faith was not rewarded.
“Jeff played a lot in the preseason. During a week that’s normal we do get him snaps in practice. He prepares just like EJ for a game,” Marrone said. “He’s a backup quarterback. His responsibility is to get ready to go in. With EJ we have high expectations and, you know, with Jeff we have high expectations.”
Marrone said the early report he got from doctors is that Manuel suffered a sprained right knee. He will be re-evaluated today. As to whether the team will need to look at a veteran quarterback (Josh Freeman was released Thursday by Tampa Bay, for example) in case Manuel’s injury keeps him out of the lineup, Marrone pumped the brakes.
“Way ahead of me right now. We’ve got some time,” he said. “We’ll get on this plane, go back, we’ll be talking in the morning – see what the doctors say. We’ll go through that process first before we start going the other way.”