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Manuel leads Bills over Jaguars

The SportsXchange

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel's first season in the NFL has been an education. The rookie from Florida State aced his latest test to boost the reeling Buffalo Bills.

Manuel, who entered Sunday's game at Jacksonville with the NFL's lowest quarterback rating, threw two touchdowns and rushed for another to help the Bills beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 and snap Buffalo's five-game losing streak.

Between injuries and inconsistency, Manuel -- who was coming off a four-interception game a week ago at Tampa Bay and missed four games with an ailing knee early in the year -- has endured a rough rookie campaign. But Sunday was one the brighter days of his young career.

Manuel helped lead Buffalo out of an early 10-3 hole to score 17 unanswered points and take a 20-10 halftime lead. The Bills' first-round draft pick a year ago finished 17-of-24 passing for 193 yards and also rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries, including an 8-yard touchdown run just before halftime that helped Buffalo regain a lead it would never relinquish.

"He learns from snap-to-snap," first-year Bills coach Doug Marrone said of the win, which prevented the Bills (5-9) from reaching 10 losses for the fifth straight season and securing last place in the AFC East for the sixth consecutive year. "You're seeing a quarterback that's getting better and better."

Jacksonville (4-10), meanwhile, failed to win four in a row for the first time since 2007. The Jaguars were 4-1 since their bye week and the hottest team in the AFC, but the absence of several key starters Sunday -- including leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring), top wideout Cecil Shorts III (groin) and shutdown safety Johnathan Cyprien (thigh) -- was noticeable.

Jacksonville did get 109 unexpected yards from backup Jordan Todman, the best rushing performance by a Jaguars' running back this season.

"It meant a lot to get my first career start," Todman said. "I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. (Maurice) was helping me all game, and it was great to be able to pick his brain. It really helped. He's been a great friend and mentor on and off the field."

The best rushing performance Sunday, however, belonged to Buffalo's tandem of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

Jackson and Spiller were held to 34 combined rushing yards last week at Tampa Bay, but they shined against Jacksonville. Jackson led the Bills with 17 carries for 80 yards, while Spiller tallied 67 yards on 13 totes.

Bills rookie wideout Robert Woods, who caught a first-half, 7-yard TD pass from Manuel that tied the game at 10-10, notched a team-high 82 yards receiving on five catches. Leading wideout Stevie Johnson had a quiet day -- just one catch for four yards -- but he decided to play despite the death of his mother Saturday.

Quarterback Chad Henne, who had played well during the Jaguars' win streak, was up-and-down Sunday. Henne was 21-for-36 passing for 237 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw two picks. He found rookie wideout Ace Sanders in the first half for a 12-yard score -- Sanders' first touchdown of his career -- and Josh Scobee booted a 42-yard field goal in the first half. Scobee later tied his career-long with a 55-yarder in the third quarter to cut the Bills' lead to 20-13.

Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis, who led the team with 54 yards on five catches Sunday, tied the game at 20-20 early in the fourth quarter on a 13-yarder from Henne and rumbled into the end zone.

"We had all the momentum," Henne said, "but we just couldn't keep it."

Buffalo went back in front with 9:35 remaining when Manuel hit wide open fullback Frank Summers from 1 yard out to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive that chewed 4:15 off the clock. The score marked Manuel's second touchdown pass for the game and cemented him in the Bills' history books.

Manuel needed just two touchdown passes Sunday to break Dennis Shaw's record for the most passing touchdowns in one season by a rookie quarterback with 10, a mark that had stood since 1970.

The Jags had two chances to tie on their final two drives, but the first ended with Henne being intercepted in the end zone by Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore with 3:15 remaining. Jacksonville's last gasp ended with two incompletions by Henne and a sack by Bills defensive back Nickell Robey.

"Overall, it was a game of missed opportunities, and we didn't play like we were capable of playing," Jags first-year coach Gus Bradley said. "Our hearts are broke because of this loss -- but not our spirits."

Buffalo, the NFL's sack leaders with 44, brought down Henne five times, while Manuel was sacked four times.

The Bills were led by eight stops from DB Leodis McKelvin and safety Aaron Williams recorded Henne's initial pick in the first half.

Jacksonville leading tackler Paul Posluszny, who was a second-round pick of the Bills in 2007 and remained in Buffalo until 2010, once again led the Jaguars in tackles Sunday -- just as he did during his final two years with the Bills. Posluszny, the NFL's third-leading tackler, finished with a team-high 13 tackles and a sack, while linebacker Geno Hayes hauled in Manuel's only interception.

NOTES: The Bills are now 2-1 in the Sunshine State this year with their other victory in Florida coming in Week 7 at Miami. They improved to 2-5 on the road with Sunday's win and now lead the all-time series against Jacksonville, 7-5 ... After showing up late for another meeting, one-time Jags star DE Jeremy Mincey was released Saturday. Mincey, re-signed last year to a four-year, $20 million deal, had 14 tackles and one sack in eight games this season ... The Jags honored former star QB Mark Brunell at halftime, inducting him into the "Pride of the Jaguars" Hall of Fame. Brunell played nine seasons in Jacksonville and holds nearly every franchise passing record. ... The Bills will host their 2013 home finale next Sunday when the Dolphins visit, while Jacksonville will close out its home schedule next weekend against the Tennessee Titans.
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