With a number of key players going down with injuries in the Buffalo Bills' loss Thursday night to Cleveland by a final score of 37-24, there is only one thing Bills fans can be certain of this season. These Bills are going to take them on a roller coaster of emotion from week to week.
After one of the biggest wins for this organization in years over Baltimore on Sunday, Buffalo followed it up with what has to be one of their most frustrating losses. The reason it was most frustrating was this game was decided primarily by something that is out of any team's control, and that was injuries.
Both teams lost their starting quarterbacks, and the game came down to which team was going to make the first mistake. Unfortunately, Buffalo was the team that made that mistake with an interception around the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
It was too late in the game, at that point, for the Bills to get back into the game, and they couldn't recover. These are the five biggest points from Buffalo's prime-time matchup against Cleveland that fans can take from this game.
After a strong preseason and EJ Manuel coming off knee surgery, there was a real possibility that undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel would start the season opener against New England. Judging by his performance against Cleveland, Bills fans should count their blessings that this possibility did not become a reality.
When Manuel went down with his knee injury midway through the third quarter with Buffalo tied at 17 a piece, but inside the red zone, Tuel stepped in for his first NFL regular-season action.
The Bills were able to finish off that drive with a touchdown by Fred Jackson, thanks to a pass-interference call on Cleveland in the end zone to get the ball to the 1-yard line and take a 24-17 lead. That was the last of Buffalo's offense.
Tuel led Buffalo on six drives, three of which ended in three-and-outs. Tuel's worst play, unfortunately, put the game out of reach when he stared down his target, and the play was jumped by safety T.J. Ward for a pick-six.
Tuel could have a future in this league, but he still needs time to develop his game. With the news that EJ Manuel will be out for a few weeks, per a report by Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News, the Bills have already stated they will be looking outside the organization for quarterback help.
This most likely means the coaching staff do not have confidence in Tuel's ability to run the team's offense. However, it remains to be seen if they can get a quarterback signed and familiar with the team's offense before the game against Cincinnati in roughly 10 days. It will be an interesting few days at One Bills Drive as the coaching staff figure out a plan to replace Manuel.
Mario Williams looks like he could finally be living up to his huge contract a year-and-half ago, playing in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's defense. He already set the team record for most sacks in a game in Week 2 against Carolina with 4.5 and had his second multi-sack game of the season last night with two.
He has recorded a sack in three of the first five games and currently is on pace for 24 sacks this year, which would be an NFL record. It is hard to expect that type of production over a 16-game schedule, but with his fast start, he is definitely in line for a career year.
These kind of numbers are in thanks to Mike Pettine's aggressive defense and his willingness to move Williams from one side of the field to the other. Offenses seem to have a hard time figuring out where the former first overall pick is coming from, and this has been giving Williams favorable matchups that he is capitalizing on.
With C.J. Spiller's impressive year last year, many wrote Fred Jackson off to a backup-type role at the position at the start of the year. Through the first five games, that hasn't been the case, and Jackson has actually outperformed the star running back.
In five games this year, he has averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns against Cleveland to bring his season total to four. He has better stats in almost every category compared to Spiller, but the one stat that is the most surprising is in the passing game.
Spiller only has nine receptions and been targeted 11 times for 29 yards. Jackson, on the other hand, has 17 receptions off 23 targets for 153 yards. The reason Spiller was so successful last year was that he had plays called that got him in space with the ball, like screen passes. These plays have become almost non-existent in Buffalo's new offense.
Even with Spiller not having a breakout game yet this year, Buffalo still ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 152.6 yards. Now that Manuel is expected to be out for an extended period of time, this rushing attack becomes much more important.
One of the reasons Doug Marrone was brought into Buffalo was because of his offensive knowledge. At times this year, though, the offense has looked unimaginative, and at other times has been head-scratching.
Last night, against Cleveland, Buffalo started nine of their 14 drives with run plays, and in three of those drives, which didn't start with a run play, Jeff Tuel was the quarterback. In the eight drives that Manuel ran, he only had two opportunities to throw it to open a drive.
This is one of the reason's the play-calling has been questioned by the Bills fanbase. When the team had Manuel in against Cleveland, he threw the ball only 20 times over roughly the first two-thirds of the game. Over the final third of the game, with Tuel under center, the Bills had him throw it 20 times.
The first three drives Tuel ran, he threw it on both second and third down, and all three drives ended on a three-and-out. Manuel only called passing plays on the second and third play of a drive once in his eight drives. If the team does bring in a veteran quarterback for their next game, it will be interesting to see if their play-calling changes, and they mix it up more.
The first-round picks are the players who get the most attention, but teams who draft well after the rounds are usually the most successful. Buffalo has done very well with their first picks the past two years with Stephon Gilmore and EJ Manuel, who both seem to have a bright future.
Those players can't do it alone, and the second round has clearly been equally as successful. Two years ago, Buffalo selected Cordy Glenn from Georgia, who started 13 games last season and all five this season at left tackle.
He looked shaky, at times, this year, but that experience seems to have paid dividends, as he has been one of the team's best offensive lineman this year. Finding a left tackle is not easy, but it's very important in the NFL. Buffalo got great value with Glenn in the second.
This past draft, though, has been equally as impressive as the Bills seem to have found two key pieces to future success in middle linebacker Kiko Alonso and wide receiver Robert Woods.
Alonso leads the team in tackles and interceptions and was named Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. He has quickly become a leader on this defense and has shown incredible instincts through the first five games.
Woods is the other second-round pick, and with each week, has become more involved with the offense. He currently leads the team in targets and yards and tied for the lead in touchdowns. With Stevie Johnson continually banged up, Woods has picked up the slack and shown a very polished understanding of how to play the position.