A late two-point conversion with 1:31 remaining in the game lifted the Buffalo Bills over the Cleveland Browns 11-10 Thursday thanks to a game-winning drive from quarterback E.J. Manuel.
His performance on the final drive of the game certainly makes the quarterback situation in Buffalo a bit more difficult to decipher after Tyrod Taylor looked to be the favorite for the job.
Taylor, who had never started a regular-season game in the NFL in four prior seasons, had a big night ahead of him with an opportunity to break that drought, according to the NFL Network's Albert Breer:
He was not surrounded by the best possible talent in his start. Buffalo hobbled into Week 2 of the preseason with a thin running game, as LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Boobie Dixon, Karlos Williams and Bryce Brown were out nursing injuries.
Instead, it was Ricky Seale, an undrafted rookie out of Stanford, who got the start and put up just 10 yards on eight carries.
Their wide receiving corps wasn't faring much better without Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin and Robert Woods. On consecutive plays toward the end of the first quarter, Marquise Goodwin and Chris Hogan went down as well.
WGR 550 Buffalo had enough of the expanding medical list:
Goodwin returned. Hogan did not.
Taylor had an awfully nice start though, completing his first five passes for 39 yards on a 16-play, nine-and-a-half-minute drive. It didn't result in points, though, as a sack pushed back a field-goal attempt to 46 yards, which was missed by Dan Carpenter, but Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke liked what he saw:
Taylor remained solid throughout the first half, going 7-10 in three drives for 65 yards while leading the team in rushing as well with 41 yards. TSN's Bryan Hayes was ready to give Taylor the starting job after his performance:
A quarterback who can feel a bit more safe about his starting status, Cleveland's Josh McCown was not as impressive in his Week 2 start. Playing against an aggressive Bills defense that could pose as a top-10 unit in 2015, McCown was looking shaky on his dropbacks, and with plenty of pressure in his face, he was struggling.
The first two Browns drives ended in interceptions to rookie Ronald Darby, who rebounded well from a Week 1 performance that saw him picked on by the Carolina Panthers.
WKBW's Joe Buscaglia watched Darby's redemption at the cost of McCown:
He threw for 57 yards in the first half with just three incompletions. But two of them were costly.
While McCown is safe, there has been unrest in the running game. Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell have been disappointing in their pursuit of the starting job in the early parts of the preseason. They didn't do much to improve their situation, as West rushed for 42 yards and Crowell ran for 14.
Despite the difference in performance between the quarterbacks, the game was knotted at three come halftime with a pair of second-half field goals. Carpenter converted a 36-yard attempt, while Cleveland's Travis Coons hit one from 41 in the last minute of the half.
In came the second-stringers for the second half, most notably Johnny Manziel, who prepares for his second season in the league coming off the bench, to the delight of SportsCenter:
Manziel put Cleveland in front with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter after his two best passes of the night. The first was a 37-yard completion after rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the run, the latter a 21-yard touchdown pass to Shane Wynn.
Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson watched Manziel's touchdown pass:
Former center and current NFL Network analyst Shaun O'Hara saw plenty of positives in Manziel's 10-of-18 performance for 118 yards:
"I'm not going to sit here and stir up a quarterback controversy," Browns head coach Mike Pettine said, despite Manziel's play, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Manuel, who was trying to compete with Taylor for the starting job, did not make a very good case for himself at the beginning of his night.
He started 3-of-7 for 19 yards while being sacked three times. CBS Sports' Zach Harper was not impressed by Manuel at all:
But in crunch time, he came alive, going 5-of-6 for 78 yards, bringing the Bills down to the 1-yard line, but an inability to punch it home, followed by a Manuel fumble that was recovered by Buffalo on third down, set up a decisive 4th-and-goal from the 9-yard line, later backed up to the 14 due to a false start.
Manuel stayed cool under pressure and hit Andre Davis on the left side of the end zone to bring the Bills within one with 1:31 to go in the game. The ever-aggressive Rex Ryan had nothing to lose in the preseason and went for two. Manuel hit Bronson Hill on a screen pass to give the Bills the one-point victory.
It's only preseason but each team saw encouraging signs under center Thursday night.
The Browns saw Manziel make strides by making some big throws and giving the team its only real semblance of offense for the entire night. His success didn't come against the Bills' starters, but the Browns have been so maligned at the quarterback position that they'll take any sign of optimism.
While Manuel was far from perfect, he also made some encouraging throws for Rex Ryan's squad. The key is getting those throws consistently from the dual-threat signal-caller, but he flashed potential. The Bills' quarterback competition is still far from clear, but Manuel at least gave the coaching staff something to think about.
Preseason football provides important insight into some areas of a team, and both these teams will seek more clarity at quarterback as Week 3 of the preseason approaches.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com