AFC East: 2013 Week 10 BUF at PIT

PITTSBURGH -- One month after returning from a fractured wrist, Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore still isn't right.

That much was clear just looking at Gilmore, who hung his head in the Heinz Field locker room following the Bills' 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, his left wrist still noticeably swollen.

"It's not 100 percent, I wouldn't say that. It's sore after every practice, after every game," he said. "I'm just out there fighting."

For his first two games back, Gilmore wore a club over his left hand that essentially left him with one functioning arm. The club came off three weeks ago, but his play has still been noticeably impacted.

"I don't use it like I would use it if it was 100 percent," he said.

Gilmore was flagged for holding on the Steelers' opening drive, and later missed a tackle on receiver Jerricho Cotchery, springing a 26-yard catch-and-run.

Both of those plays can be explained in part by the wrist injury, but Gilmore appeared to be out of position for several other plays, with the Steelers finding success targeting his part of the field.

On one of those plays, Cotchery left Gilmore in his wake on a fade pattern for a 5-yard second-quarter touchdown.

"He came up and blocked me and then went out for a pass," Gilmore said. "He kind of lulled me to sleep a little bit on that play."

Not surprisingly, that was just how Steelers drew it up.

"[It was] a fall-asleep fade," Cotchery said. "We just try to lull the guy to sleep. Once he peeks [into the backfield], it's a touchdown."

Bills coach Doug Marrone was quick to defend Gilmore last week, when the Chiefs attacked him for most of the game. Marrone said Gilmore had the tough task of covering Dwayne Bowe and reacted similarly to Gilmore's performance Sunday.

"I think sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due," Marrone said. "Sometimes they are going to make a play. Cotchery is a good, veteran receiver. He made a nice move back there."

The problem, though, is that Gilmore is the Bills' top cornerback. As Buffalo's 2012 first-round pick, it's Gilmore's job to cover the best an opponent can offer and win consistently.

Injury or not, that hasn't happened lately. Under Mike Pettine, the Bills' defense requires strong man-to-man coverage to support blitzing and pressure, and if Gilmore isn't playing as well as he or the team would like, they will need to adjust.

"I'm getting better and better everyday. We're playing a lot of man [coverage]," he said. "That's what we like to do. That's what I like to do. So I'm trying to fight for my team."

Rust to blame? Manuel, Marrone split

November, 10, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- After a week in which the Buffalo Bills celebrated the return of their first-round pick, EJ Manuel, it didn't take long for his "welcome back" balloon to deflate Sunday.

In a 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rookie quarterback completed 22 of 39 passes for 155 yards in his first game since leaving with a knee injury in Week 5.

Following the loss, coach Doug Marrone was quick to point out Manuel's four-game absence.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel struggled in his return to the field following a four-game layoff, but the quarterback wasn't making any excuses.
"The kid missed four weeks and just came back. He's trying his best," Marrone said. "If you want to know exactly what happened out there, he's going through his footwork too quickly and [he's] not as slowed down to see things develop as quickly."

Manuel, however, wasn't one to blame rust for his performance, one in which he completed just 44 percent of his passes until the game's final drive, when he went 11-for-14 for 76 yards and a touchdown.

"I didn't feel rusty. I felt good," he said. "I don't think that is a big deal with missing games or anything like that. You have to feel. You can tell when you have pressure. You can tell when guys are getting closer to you, so I don't think missing games has anything to do with the internal clock."

Like Marrone, center Eric Wood came to Manuel's defense, saying wind -- which was particularly gusty early in the game -- played a part in the passing game's struggles.

"The elements. It was tough," he said. "Early on, that wind was really kicking."

Manuel, again, wasn't buying it.

"No, I don't think the wind was a problem," he simply said after the game.

The problem, Manuel stressed, was how the Steelers' defense -- which allowed 55 points and 432 passing yards to the Patriots last week -- tried to take away the big play.

"They did a lot of coverages that were deep and had deep safeties and things like that," Manuel said. "So at times it was tough to stretch the ball down the field. You can only take what they give you. There's no point trying to force balls down the field if it's not there."

If there's any silver lining to his outing, Manuel avoided throwing an interception until the fourth quarter. On the play, his intended receiver, fellow rookie Marquise Goodwin, got tangled up with a Steelers defender while running downfield, allowing safety Ryan Clark to step in front of the pass and return it 37 yards.

There were other instances, however, when Manuel tried to force passes into tight windows, nearly causing interceptions.

"Their coach did a good job scheming for us," he said. "Sometimes the first read was covered and the second read, too."

Manuel's replacement for three games, Thad Lewis, was healthy Sunday after missing one game with sore ribs. However, Marrone said there was never any thought of turning to their backup.

"I really didn't," he said. "No."

It's not surprising that the Bills are choosing to ride Manuel, who Marrone is confident will improve despite the Bills' dwindling chances to turn this season around.

"I will say this: He will play to a point one day where I'm going to be able to stand here and say, 'You know what? I'm proud of him,'" Marrone said. "It's awesome. He's that type of quarterback that we all want."

Locker Room Buzz: Buffalo Bills

November, 10, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Observed in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Marrone explains decision to punt: Early in the fourth quarter, down 14 points, the Bills faced a fourth-and-5 from the Steelers' 36-yard line. They chose to punt, a decision that coach Doug Marrone defended after the game. "I still think we're going to get enough possessions, trying to play the field position," he said. "We weren't able to make big plays, so I was trying to play the field position where we could get good field position and pin them back."

Playoffs fading: It's debatable whether the playoffs were ever a serious consideration for the Bills, who entered the season with a first-year head coach and rookie quarterback. At 3-7, they're still far from being officially eliminated, but they will need to win five of their final six games to finish with a winning record. Playoffs or not, however, Marrone talked about the need to continue to fight in each game. "I don't want to give you the old 'They play to win the game' speech, but there is a lot of truth to that," he said. "There are a lot of players on this team that have the potential to come back. There are a lot of coaches that I plan on coming back. There are a lot of things that we need to do. There are a lot of things that we need to establish."

Three injuries to note: The Bills announced in the fourth quarter that Stevie Johnson had left the the game with a groin injury. Marrone didn't have an update on Johnson but added that safety Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring) and Chris Hogan (concussion-like symptoms) were also injured. Hogan was spotted in the locker room after the game.

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

November, 10, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:

What it means: This was as bad as the Bills have been all season. Going against a Steelers defense that allowed 55 points last week, the Bills mustered only a field goal -- itself the result of a first-quarter interception -- through the first 59 minutes of the game. The Bills and Steelers were even in turnovers -- each team had one -- but Buffalo punted nine times and was 3-for-14 on third down.

Manuel's rough day: After missing four games with a knee injury, EJ Manuel returned Sunday and put up his worst performance of the season. He finished 22-for-39 for 155 yards and one touchdown, not cracking 100 yards passing until the final drive of the game. Manuel was sacked three times, but pressure was hardly the story; it was accuracy and decision-making. He was intercepted once and came close to being picked off at least once more.

Stock watch: Falling: Punter Brian Moorman. Signed to replace Shawn Powell, who struggled in five games to start the season, Moorman had a tough afternoon. While wind was a factor, Moorman seemed to struggle no matter which direction he was punting. He had two touchbacks and added another line-drive punt that was returned 24 yards in the third quarter. The Bills entered Sunday averaging 37.3 net yards per punt, fourth-worst in the NFL.

Johnson leaves game: Wide receiver Steve Johnson left the game in the fourth quarter with a groin injury. It's unclear whether it's the same injury that Johnson suffered two weeks ago in a loss to the Saints. Johnson finished with three catches for 48 yards.

What's next: The Bills drop to 3-7 and remain in fourth place in the AFC East. They return home to host the New York Jets next Sunday, their final game before the bye week. At this point, the Bills' chances of making the playoffs are slim.