EJ Manuel steady as Geno Smith struggles

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
8:40
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- This one was a no-contest.

In the second battle of the season between the first two quarterbacks chosen in April's draft -- Buffalo's EJ Manuel and the Jets' Geno Smith -- Manuel won in resounding fashion.

Completing 20 of 28 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-14 win, the Bills' rookie quarterback had statistically his best game of the season, finishing with a 121.9 passer rating and no interceptions.

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's EJ Manuel
AP Photo/Heather AinsworthEJ Manuel completed 20 of 28 passes for 245 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Jets.
"He played with a lot of poise. The pressure was coming [and he] really made some good throws," coach Doug Marrone said. "Really handled things well. Wasn't really rattled at all during the whole game."

It was a sharp turnaround from Manuel's last outing in Pittsburgh, his first game back from a knee injury, when he couldn't crack 100 yards passing until the fourth quarter.

"We had to make a good decision. It was a tough choice that I had to make whether we started him on the road or waited and started him at home," Marrone said. "We made the decision that he was ready to go medically and we were going to start him back on the road."

The road loss to the Steelers proved to be a tune-up game for Manuel, but also prompted a change in how offensive coordinator Nate Hackett communicated with his quarterback.

After spending the first 10 games in the coaches' booth, Hackett moved to the sidelines for Sunday's game. It's a switch that will become permanent for the Bills this season.

"We thought it would be better for the quarterback to have Nate down there," Marrone said. "With a young quarterback ... just to be down there it's a different sense. Those guys talk to each other all during the week, they talk to each other all during practice, [but] there's a little bit of separation when he's [upstairs]."

Manuel gave a thumbs-up to the move after the game.

"Just being able to look him in the eye," Manuel said. "I haven't had face-to-face communication, instead of being on a mic or a telephone or things like that. It was really good having him down there."

So good, in fact, that Manuel never wants Hackett back in the coaches' booth.

"He's not going back up," Manuel said. "He'll be down there for the rest of my career."

As Manuel and Hackett clicked on one sideline Sunday, Smith and the Jets were left dazed on the other. In addition to being sacked four times, Manuel's rookie counterpart threw three interceptions and was eventually pulled from the game in favor of Matt Simms.

Smith's performance was a far cry from his first tilt with the Jets in Week 3, when he completed four passes of 40 yards or more. Instead, it was Manuel who drove the ball downfield Sunday, connecting with T.J. Graham on a 34-yard touchdown and later Marquise Goodwin for 43 yards and six more points.

Given that Manuel was without his two top receivers -- Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods -- on Sunday, it had to make his third NFL win that more satisfying.

"Just playing more confident," Manuel said of his day. "Knowing where I'm going with the ball and just letting it rip. That's it."

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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