The quarterback competition may not have ended after Buffalo's 43-19 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor each made a case for why he should be the starting quarterback against the Indianapolis Colts for Week 1 and head coach Rex Ryan said he'd make the decision on Sunday.
"This is the ideal situation that we talked about. This is exactly what I wanted where all three guys played to their abilities," Ryan said. "[I'm] really impressed with the way the offense moved the football."
Manuel started the game strong for the Bills. On his second drive, he threw a pass to Marquise Goodwin on 1st-and-10 for a gain of 16 yards. That set up a pinpoint accurate pass down the seam to tight end Charles Clay for a 67-yard touchdown. That was his last drive of the first half, but in the third quarter, Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman gave him another shot.
"I was going to go two series and two series and two series," said Ryan of his plan with his three quarterbacks. "But then they scored (quickly) and I'm like, shoot I'm going to go back to EJ because he had only thrown two balls albeit one for a zillion-yard touchdown. That's why I wanted to get him a little more work too. He did a great job."
After a short pass to tight end MarQueis Gray, Manuel threw a 37-yard strike to the end zone over the cornerback and into the hands of Tobias Palmer. Manuel came in for another series and a half, finishing the game 7-8 passing with 170 yards and two touchdowns. With those touchdowns, Manuel tied the preseason league lead in touchdown passes with four.
"I just tried to do my best with it and TP made a great catch in the back of the end zone," Manuel said. "I was happy to get another touchdown pass."
The first quarterback off the bench on Saturday was Matt Cassel. Cassel started his first drive with two completions, but the second, an 18-yard toss to wide receiver Marcus Easley, was called back because of offensive pass interference. He was sacked on the next play and the Bills were forced to punt.
On the next drive, Cassel went 5-6 passing for 36 yards. The biggest play came on a 3rd-and-nine when Cassel found wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on the left side for 13 yards. After the game, Cassel said that he felt "season ready."
"I don't have any doubts personally," Cassel said of his game. "There were a lot of big plays, the offensive line did a great job, the running backs did a great job in protection and everything else. So all in all it was a very productive night for us."
Saturday marked the first time that Tyrod Taylor was the third quarterback in the game for the Bills, though he still played with the first team. Taylor started strong with a 19-yard pass across the middle to Goodwin. Taylor continued to move the ball well, setting up a one-yard touchdown run by RB Ricky Seale. On the drive, he was 6-7 passing for 70 yards. One of the most notable facts about the drive, however, was that Taylor did not tuck and run a single time.
"The receivers did a good job of getting open, creating space between them and the defenders. The O-line did a good job of protecting so there was no need to run," Taylor said. "Anytime you can go out there and not get hit in a football game is perfect."
Combined, the three quarterbacks were 25-28 for 348 yards and two touchdowns. If you add in Matt Simms, who went 4-4 with 38 yards and a touchdown, you have a pretty impressive stat line.
"You put up 544 yards that's fine, I don't care anytime we'll take it. It's just a great performance," Ryan said. "Just like one of their coaches said, 'Hey Rex thanks for the (butt) whooping.' And I said, 'No problem.'"
Although the decision about who will start the first game of the regular season will be made on Sunday, Ryan plans to keep the verdict quite for a little while. For the immediate future, Simms will get the start on Thursday in Detroit and Ryan plans for him to play the full game barring injury.
The top three quarterbacks will be awaiting the coaches' decision. With their bodies of work complete, the decision lies in the front office.
"All I can control is just my performance and I think I've done well in these past three games, so we'll see," Manuel said.
"You've just got to go out there and play," Cassel said. "It comes down to the coaching staff and what they feel and who they think, what guy's going to give them the best opportunity to win."
"I'm comfortable and confident in the way that I've been playing. The only thing I can do is focus on what I do on the field," Taylor said. "I know all the guys at quarterback on our team have been playing well. This is a decision that the coaches have to make."