ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With six days until Thad Lewis starts at quarterback against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bills tried to explain why they opted to sign Lewis off the practice squad instead of starting Jeff Tuel, who was on the 53-man roster.
The reason, coach Doug Marrone said, goes back to the end of the preseason. The Bills felt that they needed to protect Tuel, who went 31-of-43 for 299 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in three preseason appearances.
"When Jeff started playing well, it kind of hurt us a little bit, because now we became exposed, when some other team could say, 'Hey, let's go grab this guy, who's a good, young quarterback,'" Marrone explained.
That meant keeping Tuel, who Marrone said was an "ideal practice squad candidate until he started playing so well," on the active roster, and adding Lewis to their practice squad.
"I don't doubt when people look at it and say, 'Wait a minute now, [Tuel] was here, behind your starter, and [Lewis] was on the practice squad," Marrone said. "People would say that doesn't make sense. Why wouldn't you go with the other guy and bring him up?"
Ask Lewis, too, and you'll get the same answer: Lewis belonged on the active roster, but Tuel was too important to let go.
"Because I was from the practice squad, people think guys are on the practice squad for a certain reason," Lewis said.
Since arriving in Buffalo in late August, the outside world has not seen much of Lewis, whose work is relegated to the practice fields during the week. But when he was on the field for the Bills -- in the preseason finale -- he went 7-for-16 passing.
"A lot of people don't understand, it's not my ability why I was on the practice squad, it's just certain situations," Lewis said. "Obviously, I was traded and I didn't get a chance to play as much in the preseason. I guess that's strategic and smart on their behalf."
Elsewhere in the locker room Monday, center Eric Wood echoed the same thoughts, saying that Lewis actually receives more reps in practice than Tuel, since he runs the scout team offense.
The bottom line is that the Bills are working hard to defend their move, which they made only after finding themselves between a rock (starting an undrafted free agent), a hard place (starting a practice squad quarterback), and a harder place (starting a quarterback signed off the street).
But the notion that Lewis was somehow "stashed" on the practice squad and that Tuel is a can't-miss prospect are both a little far-fetched.
If the former was true, all teams can sign players off other team's practice squads, and surely one quarterback-needy team would have been after Lewis, making him an offer to sign to their active roster. And if the latter was true, Tuel would be starting Sunday.
This doesn't mean that the Bills' are "wrong" to tap Lewis as their starter. But as Marrone said Monday, "it's difficult when you get down to your third or fourth quarterback in the NFL." Whether it is Lewis or Tuel, the Bills may very well have the NFL's worst starter in Week 6.
They are trying to do the best with what they have, but it may not make up for poor planning over the last few months, which has left them without a game-ready veteran.