Two weeks ago it all looked settled. Rookie EJ Manuel landed the Buffalo Bills quarterback job. Kevin Kolb was the backup. Jeff Tuel appeared competent enough to handle a clipboard on the sidelines as the No. 3. It went just the way most of us wanted it. Then things went terribly wrong.
Manuel wound up with a phantom knee injury that required a procedure. No one seems to be able to pin down where, when or how it happened. Plan B was Kevin Kolb. Kolb went down Saturday with the latest in a series of concussions that leave his NFL future in some doubt.
That left Tuel, who so far this preseason has completed 72 percent of his 43 passes, with two touchdowns and a quarterback rating over 100. Tuel is an undrafted rookie out of Washington State, Drew Bledsoe’s college stomping grounds. ‘Tuel Time’ in Pullman was uneventful, but right now he’s the man in Buffalo, with the Bills just two weeks before their season opener.
It also left the Bills kicking some retread tires, before coming to the conclusion that Matt Leinart was a better quarterback option than either John or Jeff Beck. Leinart has a little history here.
In 2006, coming off a 5-11 season behind quarterbacks Kelly Holcomb and J.P. Losman, the Bills had the chance to draft him. They had the eighth pick. Leinart had a Heisman. He was the toast of the talk show speculation circuit. Buffalo, though, chose defensive back Donte Whitner. Leinart was taken two picks later by Arizona, where he failed to accomplish much with the Cardinals. Matt spent the last three years as a backup in Houston and Oakland. Until Sunday, he was unemployed.
The Bills also added one Thaddeus Lewis to the mix. He’s from Duke, 25 years old with one NFL game on his resume. Lewis started the season finale for the Cleveland Browns last year and completed 22 of his 32 passes.
Buffalo coach Doug Marone hopes against hope that Manuel returns in time to log a full week of practice ahead of the Bills season opener against New England. Kolb almost certainly will not be available.
But after four weeks of training camp and three NFL preseason games, we’re left with Tuel, Leinart and Lewis. I’m pretty sure no one saw this coming.
Bill Pucko is a career journalist, an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He has worked for more than 30 years in television, radio, and newspapers in Rochester. He is a sports columnist for the Messenger Post Newspapers, co-founded and editor of Bylinesports.com, and producer and host of a high school sports show on WBGT.