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Analysis: Bills decide to ride the EJ Manuel roller coaster

Players have the week off. Good idea. Rex Ryan might want to take the film from the Buffalo Bills’ 34-31 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and toss it into Atlantic Ocean, never to be seen again.

Or, maybe, he’ll cherish it.

“I’m proud of the effort,” Ryan said, “there’s no question about that.”

And he was darn proud of Manuel too, gushing in his praise of the 2013 first-round pick again. Maybe this was Doug Whaley’s call to keep Manuel on as the No. 2 — maybe the general manager is the one who handed coaches this mess — but Ryan publicly keeps doubling down on Manuel.

This is the team’s back-up quarterback, he assures. "One-hundred percent." No doubt about it.

Buffalo hopes starter Tyrod Taylor (knee) returns from the bye week, healthy and ready to run. But there’s no guarantee he’ll stay healthy these final nine games, either. And there’s still no guarantee he’s the real deal, either.

So Sunday’s vertigo-inducing ride begs the question: Is there still hope for EJ Manuel? Because, buckle up Bills fans, you might see him again under center at some point.

“He knew that we could do better and he never lost faith,” Ryan said. “He was down because of the mistakes but, hell, he’s ready to fight.”

Manuel helped the Bills erase a 27-3 deficit but the flaws on film were even worse than believed.

— A head coach defending his quarterback isn’t late-breaking news, but one can only imagine what some players truly thought when they heard their head coach poking blame elsewhere while detailing Manuel's roof-collapse in the first half.

“One of them, a guy gets a free run at the quarterback.”

Right. But most quarterbacks spot Aaron Colvin showing blitz off the corner and shift protection over. Manuel did not. Bare minimum, he could’ve covered up the ball, taken the sack and punted. Colvin rushed his front side.

“One of them," Ryan continued, "the linebacker made a couple good plays. I don’t think you can place it all on him.”

On the pick-six, linebacker Telvin Smith read Manuel’s eyes from the snap and dropped into a hook zone for Jacksonville’s first interception in 218 pass attempts. Later, in the end zone, Manuel threw a ball directly to Smith that bounced off his hands.

The flurry wasn’t over. One more pick followed.

“It wasn’t just on EJ," Ryan said at another point of his news conference. "Then, we give up a 28-yard touchdown run. We can’t put anymore guys in there and just had a couple guys get out of their gap and, boom, the guy hits it for a touchdown.”

As if a third-and-16 throw into double coverage was borderline excusable before T.J. Yeldon’s touchdown gave the Jags a 27-3 lead.

— Field vision remains an issue. One play fans might've missed live was Manuel's three-yard checkdown to running back Boom Herron on the final play of the third quarter. From the 10-yard line, Manuel had Charles Clay and Chris Gragg wide open in the end zone, yet dumped the ball off.

Is this a salvageable trait? Three years into a NFL career?

Both tight ends lined up to the left of Manual and got great releases off the line but the quarterback never saw him... even though Herron was the receiving option right in front of the tight ends.

— Accuracy, too. Poor Chris Gragg. He might've put up Kellen Winslow-like numbers.

Remember, the airmails out of the end zone aren't new. Manuel sent several balls out of the end zone during training camp walkthroughs against no defense. So plays like this shouldn't have snuck up on management. On Buffalo's first field goal drive, Manuel had Gragg wide, wide open and threw the ball over his head. In the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-3, 244-pounder showed off his burst speed in getting a step on his man up the seam deep but Manuel's ball was long.

The first play of the game, Robert Woods plucked a receiver screen off the ground for a loss of two. There was another fade route to Gragg out of the end zone. A routine swing pass to LeSean McCoy? He missed that gimmie, even drawing the live outrage of former NFL MVP Rich Gannon. And what about the play that ended the game? Offensive coordinator Greg Roman took some criticism for calling a pass to a right-handed Manuel's left but this was actually a great call.

Chris Hogan cut in. Woods cut out on sharp speed cut. More zip on Manuel's pass and the Bills' potential game-winning drive continues.

Ryan assured that when Manuel's "fundamentals are tight," he's on the money. The maddening reality of it all?

Manuel's two touchdown passes were as good as it gets, too. Afforded centimeters for a passing window, he dropped the 16-yarder to Woods perfectly in stride. Then, Manuel trusted Marcus Easley (who had two career receptions) one on one deep for a 58-yard score. With the world expecting Ryan to bench Manuel for journeyman Josh Johnson, Manuel stayed in. Didn't flinch. Helped lead a comeback.

He never flinches off the field, either. Manuel is as an accountable, likable leader.

In London, he proved he can make NFL throws. The problem? He misses too many JV throws.

And with this team, this defense if it hits its stride, the latter is enough to win.

Instead, the Bills have opted to ride the roller-coaster.

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