EJ Manuel was just warming up to the NFL. He staged a couple heroic comebacks, battled to stay in games and confidently made the players around him better. Overall, he was the quarterback Buffalo has been looking for. Then, along came Tashaun Gipson who delivered a shot to Manuel’s knee on Thursday night that would knock Buffalo’s star rookie out for 4 to 8 weeks. Fellow rookie, Jeff Tuel, stepped in and looked like a raccoon trying to get out of a garbage can. So began the quest to find EJ Manuel’s short term replacement.
Josh Freeman was recently released by the Buccaneers and seemed to be the best available quarterback. However, Freeman came with some off-field baggage, as well as a hefty guaranteed salary. Sunday night, Freeman was signed by Minnesota, who have had their own quarterback struggles. The Bills worked out both Dennis Dixon (Steelers, Ravens/Eagles) and Pat White (Dolphins, Redskins) and passed on those prospects. Then, after saying they wouldn’t, the Bills looked within their own organization to replace Manuel. Enter Thad Lewis.
Lewis is 25 years old, born and raised in Opa-locka, Florida, a town just north of Miami whose architecture was inspired entirely by the Arabian Nights stories. He attended Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School where, in his senior year, threw for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns and led the Trojans to the state playoffs. That landed him offers from the likes of West Virginia, MichiganState and Pitt. After his senior year, Thad Lewis committed to play at Duke.
Lewis started all four seasons of his college career and threw for 10,065 yards and 67 touchdowns, both school records. He also ran in 9 touchdowns. He set another school record for most pass attempts without and interception (206), while throwing and average of 10 interceptions per year. In his senior year at Duke, he led the ACC in passing yards, completions and attempts. Despite his record-setting career, the Blue Devils went 10-38 (4-28 vs ACC) under the arm of Lewis and didn’t make one bowl game. Lewis then entered the NFL draft.
The 2010 draft saw the NFL debuts of Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy, quarterbacks who made huge impacts in college bowl games. Tebow and Bradford went head to head for the BSC Championship the previous season. So, it was no surprise when Thad Lewis went undrafted. *Side Note: Bills fans will remember 2010 as the year we drafted CJ Spiller 9th overall and then took Torell Troup instead of Rob Gronkowski in the second round.* The Rams needed someone to back up their new starter, Sam Bradford, so they signed Thad Lewis shortly after the draft. He never started a game for St. Louis.
The following summer, he was release from the team and picked up by the Browns who were just about ready to give up on their experiment with Colt McCoy. Lewis had a bit of a rocky relationship with Cleveland as he was waived, re-signed, waived again and re-signed again to the practice squad. It wasn’t until the final game of the 2012 season, after Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy were both sidelined with injuries, that Thad Lewis finally got his chance to start in the NFL. It was December 30th and the Browns were playing in Pittsburgh. Lewis went 22 of 32 for 204 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He would never play again…until now. But there’s more.
In May 2013, Lewis was released by the Browns and quickly scooped up by the Lions. He was charged with task of competing with Boise State super star and Heisman finalist, Kellen Moore for 3rd string quarterback. He didn’t get much of a chance because, in August, the Bills acquired him on a straight trade where Detroit received linebacker Chris White who was then waived and is currently playing for the Patriots. Lewis, on the other hand, was signed to the Bills practice squad where he’s been since September.
Monday morning, following a round of suitors, coach Doug Marrone announced that Thad Lewis was elevated to active duty and named the week 6 starter against Cincinnati. Lewis has his work cut out for him as the Bengals snapped Tom Brady’s 52 game touchdown streak Sunday, holding the Pats to only 6 points. This is a tough defense for any quarterback, let alone the new guy in only his second NFL start. On Sunday, Cincinnati had 4 sacks, forced 4 fumbles and held Brady to only 197 yards, well below his 253 yard season average.
All-in-all, this is not the best situation for the Bills but, it’s the one they have. There were shake ups on special teams this week with Shawn Powell being cut, the re-signing of Brian Moorman and rookie Dustin Hopkins being sent to IR. Also, the team said they might be interested in trading Jarius Byrd. So, why not bring up the practice squad QB to start in a pivotal home game so early in the season? Seriously, it’s been 13 years since we’ve made the playoffs so, why not? Let’s take some chances.
– Josh Paufler