Rick Stewart/Getty Images
The quarterback competition was the biggest event happening during Bills training camp this year. Kevin Kolb—for all of his faults—entered the offseason as the default starter because of his veteran status. EJ Manuel was listed as his backup as a courtesy to Kolb, but head coach Doug Marrone made it clear before training camp began there would be an open competition.
Neither quarterback distinguished themselves as being above the other in the first week of camp, but then Kolb got into a fight with a rubber mat. After being on the wrong end of slip on a practice field mat, Kolb spent the first preseason game watching from the sidelines.
The Bills-Colts game was in the preseason primetime slot as the only NFL contest last Sunday afternoon. With all eyes tuned to the development of Manuel, he worked through some early-drive jitters to deliver a few dazzling plays at the end of the half.
However, when Buffalo took the field on Friday night against the Minnesota Vikings it was Kolb, not Manuel, who took the field with the first-team offense. Kolb posted a mediocre stat line and showed an inability to run the quick-tempo offense Offensive Coordinator Nate Hackett has installed. The veteran left the game after an ineffective first half with the Bills leading 13-3 thanks to a defensive touchdown that never should have happened.
Manuel came on with the twos to start the second half and immediately led the team on a touchdown-scoring 80-yard drive to put the Bills up 17 points. He methodically went 6-for-6 on the drive, including the four-yard pass to Brad Smith for pay dirt.
For all the backlash the team took for the selection of Manuel in April, his command of the offense has been one of the most pleasant progressions of the last three weeks. Two impressive performances have led many to assume he is in the catbird seat for the starting quarterback spot much earlier than originally thought.
Then came the hammer of reality to bring the high hopes back to Earth, as the team released a statement on their website that Manuel will require a minor knee procedure and miss the remainder of the preseason.
A competition with the look of being closed only 24 hours ago suddenly has the feel of being as uncertain as when the team began practice three weeks ago.