For Thad Lewis, there are two optimal outcomes each time he dons a Buffalo Bills jersey; winning games and securing his job.
The undrafted quarterback out of Duke hasn't had the most stable career in the NFL. He bounced from Saint Louis to Cleveland and then Detroit. The Lions finally traded him for a Bills linebacker just before the season opener. Soon after, Lewis was signed to Buffalo's practice squad.
But after E.J. Manuel suffered a knee injury against the Browns, coaches elevated the four year veteran to the 53 man roster, and he impressed enough to earn the role in Buffalo as the number two quarterback.
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"Hopefully it can be a long term opportunity to be here and be a backup like that," Lewis said.
Manuel's last two knee injuries have forced him to miss five games, and coach Marrone decided Friday to hold him out of a sixth this Sunday. It will thrust Lewis into the starting lineup for Buffalo the fifth time this season.
"Very fortunate just to be able to start one game in the NFL, but for it to be my fifth game with the Bills a great organization like this, I feel very fortunate and I'm excited about the challenge," said Lewis. "It's fun man. When you have a chance to play period, it's fun no matter how it comes or how they dial it up or how they do things. If you just stay ready then you shouldn't worry about how your opportunity presents itself."
Through his five total games played, he's posted three touchdowns and three interceptions, but he's completed 60.2 percent of his 128 passes. Head coach Doug Marrone said Lewis is effective on and off the field.
"That's the evaluation and Thad has done everything he needed to do in the classroom, on the practice field. He's a very bright kid," Marrone said. "He has good arm talent. He has mobility so he has a lot of things that we're looking for so again it's a process with him as well as it is with all of our quarterbacks developing him."
Lewis only produced two wins for the Bills, but his play more often than not has given Buffalo a good chance to win. In Week 6 at Cincinnati, Lewis rallied the team from a deficit, forcing the game into overtime. He also showed his reliability, returning to the Week 8 game in New Orleans after a devastating hit to his ribs on the first play, and several hits thereafter.
When the call goes out, Lewis said he's eager to take the helm for his team.
"No doubt about it," Lewis said. "You always have to stay ready and whatever decision coach makes we just support it and go with it."
The 26-year-old claimed his two wins against division opponent Miami, giving him a record of 2-2 in his starts. He led the team to its first road win by converting 47.4 of third downs, setting a season high for third down conversion percentage. And in the team's most recent game, Lewis moved the chains just enough to position Dan Carpenter to hit four field goals and seize a shutout victory.
Lewis said he's excited with his contributions to the team.
"Definitely happy with some of the things that I've been able to do," Lewis said. "That's what you want to do in this league. It's all about timing and when you get your time you just want to make the best of it."
Although he's pleased with his performances, he said the goal is securing a spot on the team next year, but admitted it's out of his hands.
"I think the guys are going to evaluate that, but I think I've done pretty good with the opportunities I've had," Lewis said. "I feel like I've taken advantage of my opportunities when they've presented themselves. But you never know the situation."
Lewis said he never could have seized those opportunities without teammates who fully support him.
"Yeah just the guys telling me that they have my back when we go out there, but that just comes with being a pro," Lewis said. "Coming in handling your business and doing whatever you can do to help the team. When guys see you're going to go out and fight and give everything you have, they're going to be supportive of you."
Although his place on the quarterback depth chart next year isn't certain, Lewis said he's focused on preparing for his role in closing out the season against the Patriots.
"They're the champs in our division, but it's the same team that was here Week 1," Lewis said. "They're going to do what they do best and they're going to play hard and we have to go in there and try to steal one from them."
Lewis said he prepares each day as if he will start, but his role Sunday isn't determined. Marrone said picking the starting quarterback will be a tough decision, as Manuel's knee injury, which kept him from starting the most recent game, may not be sufficiently healed yet.
But Marrone may have provided a glimpse at Lewis' future in stating how he feels about his backup quarterback.
"I have all the confidence in the world of Thad going out there and playing well," Marrone said.