The Buffalo Bills are scrambling at quarterback. Again.
They want to start Thad Lewis in Sunday’s game against the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. But Lewis was not able to practice Wednesday due to sore ribs, and he didn’t even watch practice from the sidelines.
The next option appears to be undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, who took the majority of the snaps with the starters Wednesday. But coach Doug Marrone didn’t rule out the possibility of veteran Matt Flynn getting the nod, even though he has been with the team a little over two weeks only.
“Challenging, challenging, challenging is the word we use,” Marrone said after the Bills practiced on the grass field behind the fieldhouse. “I think it’s a great challenge. … If you look at it any way else, you can talk yourself into making excuses.”
If Lewis does not start, it will mark the first time in 45 years, since the 1969 season, that the Bills will have used three different starting quarterbacks over the first nine games of the season, not counting the strike season of 1987. (The Bills had three different starting quarterbacks for three early-season replacement games that year.)
Marrone didn’t mince words about Lewis, who is 1-2 as the starter and has helped keep the team competitive since EJ Manuel suffered a sprained knee.
“Do we want him to play? Yes,” Marrone said.
Marrone reiterated that X-rays on Lewis’ ribs were negative. He held out hope Lewis might be able to practice today or Friday.
“Thad is truly right now 50-50,” he said.
Why couldn’t Lewis watch practice?
“We thought it was better just to lay down and rest, and he had a little bit of a flu virus, too,” Marrone said.
Tuel, the rookie from Washington State, has seen only relief duty in Cleveland after Manuel got hurt. Tuel did not look good in that appearance, hitting 8 of 20 passes for 80 yards and throwing an interception.
“We really, in a perfect world, would have loved to have him on the practice squad and working with him,” Marrone said of the plan for Tuel this year. “There’s no doubt about that. But he’s in the situation now where he has to make the best of that opportunity.”
Marrone said Tuel has looked better in practice of late.
“I think the Cleveland game is probably the worst situation you can have for him,” Marrone said. “He’s a rookie free agent. We do like what he does and we like the tools. … I really thought last week, and I said this to Jeff, that he had an outstanding week of practice. Threw the ball better than I’ve ever seen him throw the ball, was really on target accuracy-wise.”
Tuel said this was how his day started at One Bills Drive:
“Coach Marrone walked in the room and said it could be anybody, we don’t know,” he said. “So I know as much as you guys do.”
Tuel on what he learned from Cleveland:
“Really just going out there and being under the lights and taking my first real official NFL snap,” he said. “I had a lot of adrenaline flowing, you’ve got nerves and all that. So I know how to handle it and prepare for it. I just learned a lot about myself and the system, as well, operating it and not doing too much.”
Flynn, 28, is a former seventh-round draft pick in his sixth NFL season. He has started only three NFL games. He spent his first four seasons backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He was beaten out by Russell Wilson for the starting job in Seattle last season. He was beaten out by Terrelle Pryor for the starting job in Oakland this season. He was released by the Raiders on Oct. 7 and signed with the Bills a week later.
He said he was happy to get some snaps with the starters Wednesday.
“I got a few, which was good,” he said. “That was my first reps since I’ve been there. It was good to get out there and be able to call the play and kind of go through the mechanics of everything.”
“One of the biggest problems with learning a new offense is forgetting your past offense,” Flynn said. “That’s the first step you have to get past. The coaches and players have been great, sitting down and talking about the game, the protection schemes, what adjustments they’re making. … I’ve been spending a lot of time in the playbook. Every day I’m getting more and more comfortable with what I’m doing.”
How ready could Flynn be on Sunday? Too early to say, Marrone said.
“I really can’t speak a lot about Matt because today was really the first time I saw a couple of plays, and I gotta see more before I put an opinion out there,” Marrone said. “Obviously I feel better about Jeff right now because I know Jeff. That’s not to say that Matt’s not good enough. I just haven’t seen enough of Matt to really say it’s a competition yet.”
Meanwhile, Manuel worked on the field during the quarterback position drills at the start of practice, throwing to receivers with no defenders on them. It’s expected the earliest Manuel could return is for the Jets game on Nov. 17. Marrone said Manuel is not a consideration to play this week.
“He looked good out there,” Marrone said. “When you don’t have consistency at a spot like that it makes it tough.”