LONDON --- Bad turned to worse... and worse... and worse... and worse for Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel in the first half at Wembley Stadium. He did put together one touchdown drive late, but it's been extremely ugly across the pond.
G.M. Doug Whaley traded veteran Matt Cassel to, supposedly, accelerate Manuel's development. That hasn't worked out well.
Manuel's malaise. Right when you thought the former first-rounder hit rock bottom, he found a new low in the first half. The problems began with throws at the feet of receivers and an overthrow to a wide-open tight end Chris Gragg in the end zone. Then, this game took a very dark turn. Manuel was blasted by a blitzing Aaron Colvin for a sack/fumble that was scooped up for a touchdown by Chris Clemons, he threw a telegraphed interception that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Telvin Smith and then, the next drive, Manuel threw a pick to ex-Bill Paul Posluszny that set up another Jacksonville touchdown. This type of performance shouldn't have snuck up on the Bills. Despite a strong preseason, Manuel struggled mightily in training camp as documented.
And yet, they're still in it. Even with the turnover-turnover-turnover collapse by Manuel, the Bills are remarkably in this game. Manuel threw a 22-yard touchdown to Robert Woods that was spot on in tight coverage, the Bills defense forced a punt, and then Dan Carpenter booted a 38-yarder through the uprights before halftime to cut the deficit to 27-13. There's a reason the Jaguars are 1-5 and always drafting in the Top 10 --- they find ways to lose games. Will they really blow what was a 27-3 lead today?
Blitz runs hot and cold. As one player said in our blitz story this Sunday, the Bills planned on bringing the heat. They've gotten to Blake Bortles at times, drawing holds on the Jaguars offensive line and Mario Williams had one sack. But Bortles has also made Buffalo pay at times for rushing an extra defender. When Buffalo sent the house on third down, he found Allen Robinson for a 10-yard touchdown. The Bills haven't hit Bortles otherwise. But overall,t- the former third overall pick hasn't been too special. Look for the Jaguars to keep leaning on T.J. Yeldon (nine carries, 63 yards) in the second half.
More McCoy. Considering this is still a manageable two-score game, the Bills will probably want to take the ball out of Manuel's hands and feed LeSean McCoy as much as they can for now. His hamstring still looks fine, cutting and bouncing runs to the outside. In the first half, McCoy had 47 total yards. He might be due to break a long one.
Josh Johnson? It was very surprising to see coaches stick with Manuel after the horrid string of turnovers/overthrows/throws into the dirt. The team did sign journeyman Josh Johnson two weeks. After Manuel found a little bit of a rhythm late, Buffalo will probably stick with him but they have to give strong consideration to inserting Johnson. It got real ugly, real fast in London.