ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Bills coach Doug Marrone is sounding a little less confident about rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s chances of starting the season finale at New England.
Marrone sidestepped questions Monday about Manuel’s status after he missed Buffalo’s 19-0 win over Miami a day earlier because of a swollen left knee.
“I think it’s a process,” Marrone said. “We’ll get him out there tomorrow and take a peek at him.”
Asked if there’s a chance the first-round draft pick won’t play, Marrone responded by saying: “I think there’s always a chance.”
That’s a significant switch from what the coach said last Wednesday.
In ruling out Manuel from playing against the Dolphins, Marrone said, “I feel 110 percent confident that he’ll be ready for New England and play in New England.”
Marrone then dismissed a question as to whether he had considered ending Manuel’s season rather than risk further injury.
“No, absolutely not,” Marrone had said. “Every snap, every time we can get him in there, that type of experience … that’s what we need.”
The Bills (6-9) have already been eliminated from playoff contention, extending the NFL’s longest active postseason drought to 14 seasons. The Patriots (11-4) have clinched the AFC East title and have a chance to earn one of the conference’s two top spots.
If Manuel can’t play, backup Thad Lewis would be in line to make his fifth start of the season, and second straight. Lewis has gone 2-2 as a starter this season, with both victories coming against Miami.
Manuel was inactive Sunday and spent the game on the sideline wearing an ear piece to listen to offensive play calls.
Knee injuries have been a season-long issue for the Florida State product, the first quarterback selected in the draft.
The latest injury occurred in a 27-20 win at Jacksonville on Dec. 15. It was to the same knee that forced Manuel to miss the final two preseason games. He also missed four regular-season games after hurting his right knee in a 37-24 loss at Cleveland on Oct. 3.
Manuel has gone 4-6 as a starter.
The Bills’ lineup could be further depleted of starters.
Receiver Stevie Johnson’s status remains uncertain after he was excused last week to be with his family in Northern California following his mother’s death. Marrone said he was unsure of Johnson’s availability because the funeral will be Friday.
Rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin’s status is also uncertain because of a left knee injury he aggravated in the first quarter against Miami. And starting safety Aaron Williams could also miss his second straight game because of a rib injury.
The Bills are coming off their most convincing win of the season in a game dominated by their defense.
Buffalo had seven sacks to up its NFL-leading total to a franchise-record 56. The defense also limited Miami to 103 yards of offense — the fifth fewest in Bills history — and six first downs to match the second fewest allowed by the team.
The defense took the burden off an offense that was missing its starting quarterback and ended the game without its top three receivers.
Aside from Johnson’s absence and Goodwin getting hurt, rookie receiver Robert Woods was ejected in the third quarter for punching Dolphins safety Reshad Jones in the facemask following a whistle.
It happened after Woods and Jones got tangled up and wrestled each other to the ground. Jones was on one knee with his back turned to Woods when the receiver hit him with an uppercut.
Woods on Monday regretted losing his cool after accusing Jones of deliberately throwing him into a pile of players.
“Of course, you don’t throw a punch in the football game. But if you’re playing outside of the rules, sometimes you’ve just got to be a man sometimes,” Woods said. “But I learned my lesson. I can’t do it again.”
Marrone said he has reminded Woods about not hurting his team.
“He’s an intense individual, and I think any coach would appreciate that,” Marrone said. “But there comes a time, and Robert’s mature enough to know, that you just can’t do those things and put your team in jeopardy.”