NFL Nation: Stephon Gilmore

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Welcome to Gillette Stadium where the Buffalo Bills (8-7) meet the New England Patriots (12-3) at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

Weather conditions: The tarp came off the field at Gillette Stadium, where some light rain fell early Sunday morning. Some showers are possible throughout the day, but generally conditions should stay dry. Skies are cloudy and winds are light.

Bills seeking first win at Gillette Stadium: The Bills are seeking their first win at Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002. The Patriots have won 35 consecutive home games against AFC opponents in this facility.

Dareus, Gilmore downgraded to out: Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (knee) and cornerback Stephon Gilmore (concussion) were both downgraded to out for Sunday's game after not traveling with the team Saturday. That means the Bills must declare an additional five inactives for Sunday's game. Expect them all to be healthy scratches.

McAulay gets the call: Terry McAulay is Sunday's referee.

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

December, 21, 2014

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 26-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Coliseum:

What it means: The Bills (8-7) were eliminated from the playoffs in crushing fashion. Riding high after taking down the Green Bay Packers, the Bills made a cross-country trip to Oakland and laid an egg to end their season. The Raiders (3-12) were able to make the big plays, including a key 51-yard catch by Andre Holmes on a third-and-22 late in the fourth quarter, the Packers weren't able to execute last week. Oakland's "black hole" took on new meaning for the Bills, whose offense -- including quarterback Kyle Orton -- yet again proved too inconsistent to win.

Stock watch: Rushing offense -- down. The Bills ran 13 times for 13 yards and their worst single-game rushing performance since 1997. It tied the Detroit Lions' 13 yards in Week 13 as the second-fewest by a team this season, behind the Indianapolis Colts' 1 rushing yard Sunday. The Bills entered Sunday with the NFL's 26th-ranked rushing offense and averaging 3.83 yards per carry.

Spiller ineffective in return: Playing his first game since fracturing his collarbone in Week 7, running back C.J. Spiller was largely ineffective in limited action against the Raiders. He ran four times for negative-4 yards and fumbled, though he recovered the loose ball on his final carry of the game. He added four catches for 14 yards.

Game ball: WR Sammy Watkins. The rookie was the lone bright spot in the Bills' offense. He caught a 42-yard touchdown from Orton in the first quarter and finished with three catches for a team-high 75 yards.

Two key defenders injured: The Bills suffered a pair of losses in their defense Sunday when Marcell Dareus (knee) and Stephon Gilmore (head) both left the game with injuries. Dareus has been one of the Bills' best defensive linemen this season, with 10 sacks, while Gilmore is the Bills' top cornerback.

What's next: The Bills close out their regular season with a trip to meet the New England Patriots (12-3) next Sunday. It's the second consecutive season the Bills have wrapped up at Gillette Stadium; Buffalo lost 34-20 to New England in their finale last December.
DENVER -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos:

Officials the hot topic: I spoke to some players after the game who declined to talk about the officials, either opting to keep their opinions to themselves or not wanting to have questionable calls overshadow the other problems in the rest of the game. However, other players were open about what they saw as tough breaks during the game. "It definitely felt like it was about 16 on 11," running back Anthony Dixon said. "But we can't make that an excuse. We did some things that we shouldn't have did. We can't be selfish like that. There were a couple selfish penalties by a couple of guys. We got to cut that out."

Gilmore gets conflicting messages: Perhaps the most debatable call of the game came in the second quarter, when cornerback Stephon Gilmore lowered his shoulder into Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders to break up a pass. He was flagged for defensive pass interference on the play. "He said I hit him early, but I don't think I hit him early," Gilmore said. "One of the refs said it looked good to him but another ref said, the one that called it, said it wasn't good. So it is what it is."

Robey confused by call: Another flag that will draw scrutiny came in the first quarter, when cornerback Nickell Robey was flagged for illegal contact in the red zone. From my view in the press box, it appeared Aaron Williams might have gotten tied up with receiver Demaryius Thomas and perhaps that's what the officials meant to call. Robey didn't think he committed a foul. "They didn't even explain it," he said. "I think it was a good play. I don't know where the contact came in at. I thought I hit him within the five-yard range. I didn't make that much contact. ...I didn't even think the flag was on me. I thought it was on somebody else."

The second-year cornerback didn't hold back when asked about the frustration of the Bills' 11 penalties in the game, totaling 98 yards. "Very frustrating," Robey said. "We understand that it's Denver. We understand that they are the AFC champions and all that other stuff. But at the end of the day, you have to call the game how it's supposed to be called. Some things just could have gone our way but they didn't. But I guess that's what happens when you're in someone else's territory."

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 22-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

Hughes recalls Patriots game: Defensive end Jerry Hughes was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth quarter and said he wasn't given an explanation for the call. "There really wasn't one," Hughes said. "I did yell because I did get held on that play. I made sure I yelled, 'Holding.' Whatever else came after that, I really don't know. I don't know. ... I've never really seen a holding call missed at the point of attack like that. So I really don't know. I'm at a loss for words right now."

Hughes was also flagged for a questionable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in Week 6 against the New England Patriots, a game that was also officiated by Walt Coleman's crew. "It's the same crew from New England, from when we played New England, so it just doesn't surprise me," Hughes said.

Gilmore's teammates question call: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was also on the receiving end of a questionable call in the fourth quarter, a 24-yard defensive pass interference penalty as Gilmore was trying to break up a pass intended for Mike Wallace. Asked how his teammates reacted to the play, Gilmore said, "Everybody [was] telling me it was a bulls--- call," Gilmore said. "So it is what it is. They made it. Gotta live with it." Gilmore added that he didn't know how else to play the pass.

Orton has toe injury: Quarterback Kyle Orton rose slowly after his intentional grounding call in the end zone, and now we might know why: Orton has a toe injury, according to coach Doug Marrone. Orton finished the game, so it doesn't appear to be a serious ailment. Marrone said he did not consider going to backup EJ Manuel.
CHICAGO -- Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) is inactive for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

Corey Graham will start at cornerback in place of Gilmore, who was listed as questionable for the game.

Gilmore was a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday.

Meanwhile, running back Anthony Dixon (hamstring), who was also questionable, is active.

Here is the Bills' full list of inactives:

CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
TE Lee Smith (toe)
S Jonathan Meeks (neck)
RB Bryce Brown
T Cyrus Kouandjio
G Cyril Richardson
DE Jacquies Smith

Previewing Bills-Bears at Soldier Field

September, 7, 2014
CHICAGO -- Welcome to Soldier Field, where the Buffalo Bills begin their regular season against the Chicago Bears (1 p.m. ET; noon local).

Weather conditions: It feels like fall on the shores of Lake Michigan. Temperatures are in the upper 60s and will rise into the low 70s by kickoff. Humidity is low, winds are low and there is no chance for precipitation.

Gilmore, Dixon questionable: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) and running back Anthony Dixon (hamstring), who are both listed as questionable for the game, worked out on the field under the watchful eyes of trainers about three hours before the game. That indicates that they were game-time decisions. Notably, wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs; probable) did not have an on-field session with trainers before the game, a sign that he could be good to play.

Predicting inactives: Tight end Lee Smith (toe) and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) are doubtful for the game and are likely to be inactive. If Gilmore and Dixon are also inactive, the Bills must declare three other players inactive. Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, defensive end Jacquies Smith and cornerback Ross Cockrell are our top candidates to be healthy scratches. Inactives will be announced at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Allen gets the call: Brad Allen, a first-year NFL official, is the referee for today's game. Allen spent the last nine years as a referee in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He is the first official since 1962 to become a referee in his first season in the NFL.

Bills' Sammy Watkins (ribs) probable

September, 5, 2014
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins is listed as probable on the team's injury report for their regular-season opener Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Watkins, who injured his ribs twice in the preseason, practiced fully this week. If he plays Sunday, Watkins could take some plays off.

 "Just about any other rib injury. Just the soreness of it. Nothing else can happen with the ribs," Watkins said Monday. "You just have to go out there and be strong and finish the game. If I need to take a breather, take two or three plays off from being hit, that's what I'm going to do."

Meanwhile, starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore is questionable after being limited in practice earlier this week.

Here is the Bills' full Friday injury report:

TE Lee Smith (toe)
S Jonathan Meeks (neck)

RB Anthony Dixon (hamstring)
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)

LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)
LB Randell Johnson (ankle)

Spikes, Dixon added to injury report

September, 4, 2014
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) and running back Anthony Dixon (hamstring) were added to the Buffalo Bills' injury report Thursday.

Spikes stepped off the practice field briefly to warm-up further on an exercise bike. After consulting with a trainer, he returned to practice and took part in team drills.

Meanwhile, the Bills upgraded cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) to full participation after he was limited Wednesday.

Did not participate:
TE Lee Smith (toe)

Limited participation:
S Jonathan Meeks (neck)
RB Anthony Dixon (hamstring)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)

Full participation:
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
LB Randell Johnson (ankle)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)

W2W4: Buffalo Bills

August, 16, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in a preseason contest Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET) at Heinz Field.

1. EJ Manuel's consistency: Speaking to reporters after his 17-for-22 performance in Thursday's practice, Manuel stressed how he wanted to be more consistent and to carry over his successes from one practice (or game) to the next. He'll have a chance to do that Saturday. It's a similar story to last season. He completed 69 percent of his passes in Week 2, only to see his rate drop to the mid-40s in Weeks 3 and 4. Likewise, he posted a 71.4 rate in Week 11 before dropping down to the mid-50s the next two games. Manuel completed 69 percent of his throws in last Friday's game and 77 percent in Thursday's practice. Staying in that general range Saturday will suggest an improvement over his inconsistencies from last season.

2. Sammy Watkins' strides: If Manuel is storyline No. 1A with the Bills, then Watkins is No. 1B. Outside of his early drop in Wednesday's session, Watkins had another strong week of practice. Last week, it translated over into the game, with Manuel finding his top receiver three times for 21 yards. The two are likely to see more playing time together Saturday -- potentially through the first half -- so there should more opportunities to build chemistry in a live game setting. We've yet to see the duo stretch the field vertically in the preseason. Perhaps that will change Saturday.

3. Can defense maintain its pace? Outside of the Panthers' early touchdown drive, the Bills' first-team defense hasn't allowed more than 5 total yards on any drives this preseason. They've been downright smothering and it starts with the defensive line. They'll have a longer run in Saturday's game and a tougher opposing quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. Does the defense continue to hold up well, or are some holes exposed? Our attention will be on the cornerbacks, especially Stephon Gilmore's potential matchup with Antonio Brown. Expect Roethlisberger to test that one early.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' luck with the weather ran out as they held their ninth and final organized team activities session Thursday.

Skies opened about halfway through the outdoor practice, with players initially toughing it out during an 11-on-11 drill before moving indoors to their practice facility.

Even before the weather was a factor, it was a practice to forget for quarterback EJ Manuel and first-round pick Sammy Watkins. In a routes-versus-air drill, three of Manuel's throws directed towards Watkins in the end zone were off-target. Watkins got his hands on each but couldn't haul them in.

Later in the practice, back indoors, Manuel hit Watkins with a well-thrown pass but Watkins couldn't get ahold of the ball. Manuel also had multiple passes on fade patterns sail over receivers in the end zone, a trend during the three weeks of OTAs.

The Bills wrapped up practice with a full-team red zone drill. Manuel's first pass was an incomplete fade pattern, while his second pass was overthrown. Following a hand-off to Anthony Dixon that went for a touchdown, Manuel's next pass was thrown away, while his final pass was intended for Dixon on a dump-off but was off the mark.

From a big-picture standpoint, the one sequence of the one OTA doesn't mean much, but it wasn't the way the Bills wanted to end their three weeks of practice. Manuel and Watkins will look to bounce back next week at mandatory minicamp.

Attendance-wise, linebacker Brandon Spikes was not spotted Thursday after participating in the first eight OTAs. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who has been practicing on a limited basis following hip surgery, was also not on the field.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore took a step forward in his recovery from hip surgery, taking reps at first-team cornerback in an 11-on-11 drill. Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip surgery) also had an increased workload Thursday.

Offensive lineman Doug Legursky returned to practice for the first time in a week.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin participated in positional drills Thursday but was limited as he recovers from a knee injury suffered earlier this week.

Defensive end Bryan Johnson, who was carted off the field with an apparent left leg injury Monday, will be out until training camp, coach Doug Marrone said.

Turnover woes return for Jaguars

December, 15, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a better team since the bye week for various reasons, but one of the biggest was turnovers.

They were forcing them but not committing them.

They did the first part against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, but it was the other part that cost them in a 27-20 loss at EverBank Field. The Jaguars (4-10) committed a season-high four turnovers, including two on potential scoring plays, and that sloppy play ended their three-game losing streak.

"Four turnovers -- we’re not going to win any games," said quarterback Chad Henne, who threw two interceptions. "You lose the turnover battle your chances of winning are very slim, so our job is to protect the ball and score points when we’re down there and keep it in our favor when we’re on the field."

The Bills (5-9) turned two of those turnovers into field goals, although the second was a questionable call that did not get over-turned by replay.

Henne’s first interception came on the game’s third play. He had hooked up with tight end Marcedes Lewis for a 25-yard gain the play before. Henne tried to go back to Lewis but forced the ball and safety Aaron Williams picked off the pass. Four plays later the Bills had a 3-0 lead.

The Jaguars were driving to tie the game at 13-13 late in the first half when Bills cornerback Nickell Robey ripped the ball way from receiver Mike Brown. Replays appeared to show that Brown never had possession of the ball before Robey knocked it loose, but officials did not reverse the call.

The Bills, thanks in part to a 31-yard pass interference penalty, got into position for a 40-yard field goal and a 20-10 lead as the half expired.

The turnover that hurt the most, however, came on the Jaguars’ first drive of the second half. Denard Robinson broke free for what appeared to be a 25-yard touchdown run but Williams hit him from behind at the 1 and knocked the ball loose. It rolled through the end zone for a touchback.

"I didn’t see him [Williams] but I tried to double up once I [saw the goal-line]," Robinson said. "The ball was like this [out in front of him] and I was trying to grab it and it seemed like he just had perfect timing."

Henne is disputing the final turnover. Henne said Brown was being held in the end zone and he threw the ball to the back corner so they could get a penalty and a first down, but officials didn’t throw a flag and Stephon Gilmore’s interception stood with 3:15 remaining.

"You’ve got to throw it or they’re not going to see who the receiver is," Henne said. “If you don’t throw it they don’t call it. My job is to throw it where he’s supposed to be and obviously they didn’t see it.

Mike and I are sitting there and [coach] Gus [Bradley] went after him [the official], but you can’t do anything about it."

Henne said that play didn’t lose the game, but the offense’s collective carelessness with the ball did. It was reminiscent of the way the team played in the first eight games, when they turned the ball over 15 times and had a minus-7 turnover ratio.

In the first five games after the bye, the Jaguars’ turnover ratio was plus-5: five turnovers against 10 turnovers first. They were 4-1 in those games.

They didn’t follow that formula on Sunday. They picked off Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel once and forced him to fumble on a third-quarter sack, but the four turnovers wiped those out.

"It was a game of missed opportunities," Bradley said. "We had some missed opportunities in the game to capture and we didn’t play like we’re capable of playing, whether it was a fumble, interception, things like that. In the locker room our hearts are broken right now because of this but I felt like our spirit is not."
C.J. Spiller and Adrian Clayborn USA Today Sports; AP PhotoC.J. Spiller's Bills and Adrian Clayborn's Bucs are playing for pride -- with draft positioning at stake.
Aside from 2014 draft position, Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers doesn't have a lot of obvious meaning.

At the moment, the Bucs (3-9) would hold the No. 5 overall pick in next year's draft, while the Bills (4-8) would hold the No. 9 pick. But Sunday's result could shake that order up. Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas examine the matchup.

Yasinskas: Mike, this game features two rookie quarterbacks. Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon and Buffalo's EJ Manuel. Glennon is coming off his worst game of the season against Carolina. But, other than that, he has been fairly efficient. What's your assessment of how Manuel has played so far?

Rodak: Manuel has been up and down, both before his knee injury and after it. The 16th overall pick of the 2013 draft missed four games in the middle of the season after he took a shot to the side of his knee against the Browns in Week 5. The Bills' brass has liked to say that Manuel was on the right track before the injury, but the reality is that he had a completion rate below 50 percent in Weeks 3 and 4 and had three turnovers in that Week 4 win over the Baltimore Ravens. When Manuel came back in Week 10, he had perhaps his worst game of the season, in Pittsburgh. Those have been the low points.

On the other end of the spectrum, Manuel led the Bills on a game-winning drive over the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 and posted a passer rating of 121.9 against the Jets in Week 11. Those have been the high points. But on average, he has been a below-average NFL quarterback to this point, posting a 45.5 QBR for the season.

Pat, the Bucs looked like a disaster about two months ago. Now they have won three of their past four games. What has changed for them?

Yasinskas: The Bucs were in utter disarray at the start of the season. But, aside from Sunday's loss to Carolina, they've played much better over the past month or so. Part of it has to do with Glennon's steady improvement. He has shown signs he can be more than just a game manager. The other thing that has stood out has been how this team has stuck together. Despite some speculative reports to the contrary, coach Greg Schiano never lost the locker room. His players still believe in his system and have been playing hard for him. Finally, the defense, which has a lot of individual talent, has started to click and that coincided with the turnaround.

Speaking of defense, the Bills lead the league with 43 sacks, but they're allowing 25.6 points a game, which ranks 24th. What has gone wrong with this defense?

Rodak: Earlier in the season, much of the problem was with the secondary. The Bills battled through some injuries -- safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore both missed time -- and they got torched by some teams early. But they've been healthy back there for a while now, and the results have been better.

The problem recently has been with the run defense. The Bills rank 24th in the NFL, allowing 121.5 rushing yards per game, and allow 4.18 yards per carry. Some of that has to do with time of possession. The Bills' offense ranks 31st in the NFL, which has put some stress on the defense. More alarmingly for Buffalo, the run defense has gotten worse as the season has gone on. The Bills allowed 5.83 yards per carry to the Jets and 5.03 yards to the Falcons, including two long touchdown runs. There's a lot of talent on this defense, but the consistency isn't there.

Pat, there was a lot of talk this offseason about the moves the Buccaneers made in their secondary. They drafted Johnthan Banks in the second round, traded for Darrelle Revis and signed Dashon Goldson. How have those moves paid off?

Yasinskas: The Bucs went overboard making moves in the secondary because they had the league's worst pass defense in 2012. There has been a noticeable improvement this year. But it hasn't been all roses. Banks has looked good at times, but also has had some rookie moments. Goldson missed two games due to injury and was suspended for another game for an illegal hit. Revis has been solid, although the Bucs brought him along slowly early in the year because he was coming off knee surgery. Overall, this is a decent secondary, but it has yet to approach its true potential.

Mike, what's your read on C.J. Spiller? He seems to be having an up-and-down season to this point. How much has his ankle injury been a factor?

Rodak: He has been a tough one to pin down. This much is for certain: He hasn't lived up to the expectations many on the outside had for him entering this season, and his ankle is a big factor in that. But even after coach Doug Marrone removed Spiller from the injury report about a month ago, things still weren't right. He had disappointing games in Weeks 10 and 11, rushing a combined 21 times for 29 yards. But then, out of the blue, he broke open a 77-yard run Sunday, the longest of his career. He followed that with a 36-yard touchdown run and finished with one of the best games of his career, tallying 149 yards.

Going forward, I'm not really sure what to expect with Spiller. This could be his identity within this offense: a home run hitter who is prone to more strikeouts than the norm.

Pat, speaking of running backs, Bobby Rainey seems to have cooled off since his huge game against Atlanta a few weeks ago. What has happened to the Bucs' running game?

Yasinskas: Rainey rushed for 163 yards against the Falcons, but has averaged just 49 yards in the two games since then. What's happening is that opposing defenses are loading the box to stop the running game. They're daring Glennon to beat them and he hasn't really done that. Until Glennon starts having more luck with the downfield passing game, defenses are going to continue to focus on bottling up the running game.

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

December, 1, 2013

TORONTO -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons:

What it means: Wow. The Bills let this one get away. With the game tied late in regulation and the Bills driving, receiver Stevie Johnson fumbled after a catch, forcing overtime. Then, after the Bills won the overtime coin toss, tight end Scott Chandler lost another fumble after a catch, which led to the Falcons' 36-yard winning field goal. With a 4-8 record, the Bills' playoff hopes are effectively put to rest. This is their second overtime loss this season, and one that will sting.

Spiller's spark: Just when things haven't looked good for C.J. Spiller this season, he has pulled off some of the better runs you'll see. He did it again Sunday, sprinting for 77 yards in the first quarter to set the table for a Bills touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Spiller dashed for a 36-yard touchdown that put the Bills in the lead. He finished with 149 yards on 15 carries, not too far off from his career high of 169 yards.

Stock watch: Falling: Stephon Gilmore. It wasn't all bad for the 2012 first-round pick, but the Bills' top cornerback had his struggles. He was called for a penalty in the third quarter that bailed the Falcons out of a third-and-14 and eventually led to a touchdown. Gilmore was also beaten by Roddy White for a 22-yard gain in the second quarter, and later by Harry Douglas on a 13-yard catch in the red zone. After Gilmore told the team's official website last week that he feels like he did back in training camp, before his wrist injury, the Bills may need a little bit more out of him going forward.

Attendance drops: In their sixth regular-season game in Toronto, the Bills saw their attendance drop since last season's loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The announced attendance was 38,969, while 40,770 fans saw last season's contest. The Rogers Centre's football capacity is 46,470, not including luxury boxes. There was a wide swath of empty seats in the upper deck behind one end zone, but the close game kept the crowd in it.

What's next: The Bills will be back on the road the next two weeks, beginning Sunday against the 3-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the playoffs now a distant possibility, the Bills' focus in their final four games will turn to next season. What are their needs? Where can they improve? Those questions have now moved onto the radar.

W2W4: Jets at Bills

November, 15, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's hard to believe, but the Buffalo Bills' home schedule is nearing an end.

In what will be their second-to-last game at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season, the 3-7 Buffalo Bills will try to snap a three-game losing streak as they host the 5-4 New York Jets.

Like the first meeting between the two teams, when the Jets came away with a 27-20 win, there are are plenty of storylines in this one: two divisional opponents, two rookie quarterbacks, and two defensive minds -- Jets head coach Rex Ryan and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine -- who are all too familiar with one another.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesThe pressure is on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to show marked improvement throughout the Bills' remaining games.
Here's what to watch for:

1. How does Manuel bounce back? With the Bills' playoff hopes on the ropes, this is a game where fans want to see improvement not only for what's left in this season, but for next season. No player needs to get better more than EJ Manuel, who is coming off a disappointing outing in Pittsburgh. The Bills made it clear this week that they're going to let Manuel take his lumps and keep him on the field, so it remains highly unlikely that another sub-par performance would jeopardize his starting job. Still, the Bills' decision-makers would obviously prefer coming out next week and celebrating Manuel's progress rather than having to come to his defense once again.

2. Who catches passes? With Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods both out for Sunday's game, the Bills' passing offense, already among the NFL's worst, is in a major bind. The pressure will be on T.J. Graham to help fill the void, but the reality is, Graham hasn't proven to be much more than a speedy, deep threat. If he can show some versatility as a receiver capable of working the underneath part of the field, it will take pressure off Manuel. Otherwise, the Bills will have to turn to rookie Marquise Goodwin, another speed demon, or Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley, who have limited experience on offense. The odds are heavily stacked against Manuel with his group of receivers.

3. Getting to Geno: The strength of the Bills is their defensive line and pass rush, so if they want to take heat off the offense, forcing Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith to turn the ball over is a great place to start. Smith has been sacked 30 times, fourth-most in the NFL, while he has been intercepted 13 times, third-most in the NFL. The Bills have forced just one turnover in their past three games, and putting pressure on Smith is one way to force him into mistakes. Smith wasn't sacked in the teams' first meeting this season.

4. Monitoring Gilmore: Big plays were a big reason why the Bills lost in the Meadowlands back in September. Smith had four completions of 40 yards or more, targeting a hobbled Bills secondary that was without Stephon Gilmore. This time around, Gilmore is healthy and back at his post as the Bills' top cornerback. The problem for Buffalo, however, is that opposing quarterbacks haven't been afraid to throw at Gilmore in recent weeks. Pettine's defense requires cornerbacks with strong man-to-man coverage skills. Gilmore has that ability and as much potential as any cornerback in the NFL; he'll just need to step his game up Sunday. More successful deep passes or long catch-and-runs will hamper a defense that is getting good play from its front seven.
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."