ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There are several NFL teams who aren't happy, or are, at the very least, frustrated, with their quarterback situation -- the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans come to mind -- but they would need to wrestle for a spot at the head of the line with the Buffalo Bills.
Or at least that is how they feel about it in the Bills organization.
For the first time since 1969, the Bills have used three starting quarterbacks in the first nine games of a season, meaning this is the first time since the AFL-NFL merger that it has happened in Buffalo, excluding the strike year of 1987.
EJ Manuel started the first five games before a knee injury put him out.
Thad Lewis started the next three before bruised ribs sidelined him.
Jeff Tuel started the 23-13 loss to Kansas City.
Heading into this season, those three players had a combined one NFL start -- Lewis last year for Cleveland. Tuel became the 46th undrafted quarterback in the NFL to start as a rookie since the merger, counting 17 who played during the 1987 strike replacement games.
So who gets the start in Week 10 when the Bills travel to Pittsburgh to play an angry Steelers team that just allowed a franchise-worst 55 points to the Patriots? Well, in somewhat of a surprise, it may be Manuel.
On Monday morning, Manuel revealed that he had been cleared to practice by the medical staff, and he intends to be the man in the game at Heinz Field, though he knows it won't be his call.
"Definitely looking forward to getting back to practice, full course, taking as many reps as coach allows me to get and move on from there," he said. "It's his decision at the end of the day, so I'm just going to go out there and work hard and get back where I was."
Coach Doug Marrone will have the final say, and it's safe to assume he hopes Manuel looks up to the task and gets through the work week unscathed.
"Once the doctor says he can play, then it's on us whether he can go out there and do that," Marrone said. "From an injury standpoint, he might be in a position where he won't re-injure himself, but us as coaches, what's the mindset of the player, is he ready to go, does he have enough reps to be accountable for what we're asking him to do?"
Marrone has said all the right things regarding Lewis and Tuel, but the bottom line is that neither player is worthy of being a starter in the NFL. Manuel gives the Bills their best chance to win, and they need him back on the field as soon as possible if they want to keep alive their slim hopes of earning a playoff berth.
Manuel has stayed on top of things, doing everything necessary to continue growing in the offense despite not taking the physical reps in practice or playing in the games. He said he has learned a lot watching from the coach's booth on game day, and he thinks that will translate back onto the field when he returns.
"People can say it's a cliche thing, but I was taking the mental reps to heart to make sure I was getting those reps," he said. "Just trying to stay prepared and try to be a smarter player than I was before."
Part of being smarter is learning when to cut your losses and avoid taking hits like the one he took in Cleveland. On that scramble he ran far enough to get the first down and was right on the sideline. Rather than step out, he tried to get a few more yards and took a direct shot on his left knee.
"That's just a part of playing football," he said. "I'm not going to play scared, I'm going to continue to try to get as many yards as I can, but at the same time get out of bounds or slide or throw it away, whatever, when I get out of the pocket. When you can, get down.
"We call it the Peyton Manning rule; if you're in the pocket and you're about to get crushed, get down as soon as possible. Those veteran guys understand that, they might not be able to take off, so get down and protect the body."
Notes: Running back C.J. Spiller has endured a frustrating season, due mainly to a high ankle sprain that has sapped him of his explosiveness and forced him to sit out the game against New Orleans. Against the Chiefs, with two weeks of rest, Spiller had his best game of the year with 155 total yards, including 116 on the ground.
Spiller came into the game with only 398 yards rushing and receiving, including just 36 receiving. He had 39 receiving on two catches against the Chiefs.
"It's still not there, but it's definitely very close," Spiller said of his ankle. "Today was very encouraging to me. My cutting ability and exploding off it was good, but tomorrow'll be a good day to see how it responds because this is the most work that it's got since Week Four."