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Hi. I’m Your Best Chance To Win!

Filed under: Buffalo Bills, Sports

 

 

We Want Marangi is not here to debate the decision to bench E.J. Manuel, but simply to say this:

 
If you are depending on Kyle Orton to save your job, or your favorite team’s season, you are in very, very deep shit.
 
Which is where Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone find themselves a month into their second, and almost certainly last, seasons in their present positions—in over their heads.
 
No question, four games into Manuel’s first injury-free season, the 16th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has regressed more quickly than even the most optimistic Bills fan could have thought he might improve.
 
A week ago in San Diego, he dumped the ball off with receivers running free in the secondary. On Sunday in Houston, visually unnerved by the destructive presence of Texans wrecking machine J.J. Watt, he looked beyond open targets to spray downfield throws that his receivers could not (or, in the case of Sammy Watkins on at least one seemingly catchable ball, would not) get near.
 
When Manuel did get the ball to a check-down receiver, they inevitably had to reach up or back for the ball, ensuring a minimal gain. The only guy he hit in full stride all day was Watt, whose 79-yard return of the most disastrous swing pass in Bills history put Houston ahead to stay just after halftime.
 
Manuel did make a couple of nice plays. There was the strike to Watkins for Buffalo’s first touchdown. He also gets credit for escaping the Houston rush in the fourth quarter, seeing Mike Williams running free and not throwing it 10 yards over the Buffalo native’s head.
 
But on a day when Buffalo’s defense completely eradicated Houston’s running game and forced three turnovers, while Ryan Fitzpatrick showed no reason to regret cutting him loose last spring, Manuel still managed to get his team beat.

Manuel’s overthrown final pass finalized a come-from-ahead loss that pivoted on his first interception. Watt’s touchdown (which you can watch again and again below, if you like) displayed the hyper-awareness and stunning athletic ability that make him the NFL’s premier defensive player, but could not have happened without the dumbest throw by a Bills quarterback since Jeff Tuel’s horrific goal-line decision against Kansas City last year.

The desperation on display from Marrone and Whaley is understandable, with the Pegulas poised to assume ownership of the Bills as early as next week. A 15th straight miss of the postseason would almost certainly mean a complete tear-down of the front office and coaching staff. Terry and Kim may have stuck with Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff too long after buying the Sabres, but at least their resumes included a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and another to the semis.
 
Benching Manuel, though, serves as an admission by Whaley and Marrone that they not only botched their first No. 1 draft choice, but also squandered what would be their third top pick next spring by trading it away to get in position to take Watkins with their second. That decision only makes sense if they had accurately assessed Manuel’s potential and progress. Which, quite clearly, they did not.
 
Nor did they manage to come up with a viable Plan B. Only lucking out with Thaddeus Lewis after whiffing on Kevin Kolb and Matt Leinart kept last season’s 6-10 mark from being even worse. Not that the Buffalo hierarchy learned anything from the experience, as they failed to draft or sign another potential backup until picking up Orton days before the regular season opened.
 
Instead, they convinced themselves that Manuel would stay healthy AND blossom into a playoff-level quarterback and, if something were to go wrong there, that Lewis could replicate his brief flash of competence AND that Tuel belongs anywhere near an NFL roster.
 
Wrong again, guys. And again. And again.

Marrone’s insistence he only shared his decision on Manuel with his boss after making it does not suggest the strongest of working relationships, either. Power struggles usually take place when one or both parties have at least minimal credibility, which this moves strips from both men.

 
Which brings us to Orton, who, like Fitzpatrick, is on his fifth chance as a professional.
 
“I went to Doug, I said, ‘Look, this gives us the best opportunity to win,'” Marrone said while announcing his decision on Monday.
 
Lovie Smith, Josh McDaniel, Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel and Jason Garrett have all come to a different conclusion at some point during Orton’s 10-year NFL odyssey.

To be fair, Orton did start 15 games for Smith in Chicago as a rookie, but was so unimpressive that Lovie benched him once the Bears reached the playoffs thanks almost entirely to the league’s stingiest scoring defense and five returns of turnovers or kicks for touchdowns.

Orton mostly sat behind Rex Grossman and Brian Griese for the next couple years, not throwing a single pass in 2006, when Chicago reached the Super Bowl.

In 2008, Orton had his best season to date, starting 15 games as Chicago went 9-7, but lost the finale to a Houston team with nothing to play for and missed the postseason. The Orton-led Bears ranked 26th in total yards and 27th in yards per pass attempt.

By that point, the Bears were so eager to get rid of Orton that they sent him with two first-round picks and a third-rounder to get Jay Cutler. It looked like a great deal for Denver when the Broncos started out 6-0. Orton went on to join Daunte Culpepper as the only starting quarterbacks since 1990 whose teams managed to miss the playoffs after opening with six straight wins.

A year later, Orton — saddled with an historically awful defense and non-existent running game — was benched in favor of Tim Tebow with three games remaining in a 4-12 season.

An injured Orton was replaced by Tebow again early in 2012 and subsequently traded to Kansas City, where he started the last three games of the season, winning two. His performance did not help Crennell, who took over as interim coach when the Chiefs fired Haley the week before Orton’s debut.

Orton’s only significant action in two years in Dallas came in last season’s finale. With the Cowboys needing a win against Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football to reach the playoffs and Tony Romo sidelined with a back injury, Orton put up one of the best statistical games of his career, going 30-of-46 for 358 yards and two scores.

Then, with nearly two minutes left and his team down by two points, he did this.

So, in nine NFL seasons, Orton has been found wanting by four other franchises, proven himself as the only professional quarterback who could not keep Tim Tebow on the bench and misfired, badly, on the biggest throw of his career. Then he quit, or at least pretended to in order to get out of his contract in Dallas, failing to show up for offseason workouts or much of anything else related to the Cowboys until they released him. He signed with Buffalo a month later, missing any chance to get practice time with the first-team offense during training camp.

Yet, according to Marrone, he gives the Bills their “best chance to win,” a notion shared by a fair portion of the populace, judging from social media and talk radio. That improvement seems to stem from a belief that Orton is significantly more accurate and/or less mistake-prone than Manuel, neither of which is borne out by the historical record, either. In 75 career appearances, Orton has completed 58.5 percent of his passes to his teammates, with 2.6 percent going to the other guys. Manuel’s numbers in the same categories: 58.6 and 2.7.

In his defense, Orton does seem like a fun guy. He was an inaugural member of the Deadspin Hall of Fame, thanks to a propensity for partying around people willing to take and publish photographs of the proceedings and their aftermath.

He is also, according to the WWM Research Department, the only quarterback in National Football League history of whom a picture exists involving him pretending to perform oral sex in a limousine. (Editor’s note: We will let you use your favorite search engine to find that one, as well as a seemingly infinite array of Orton enjoying his time off on your own, if you wish.)

We will not hold Orton’s past off-field conduct against him. After all, Jim Kelly liked to cut loose once in a while, too, though he was fortunate enough to do so before such modern marvels as Deadspin, TMZ and Twitter came along.

So Orton does immediately give the Bills an improved social media presence, even if the most popular Twitter presence bearing his name, which we will also allow you to locate yourself, is a parody account playing off the hard-drinking frat-boy image of his early years with the Bears.

The idea that Orton gives Buffalo a “better chance to win,” though, can not be based on anything other than forced optimism, a strategic Hail Mary by a coach frantically trying to avoid the shortest non-interim Buffalo coaching tenure since Mike Mularkey’s.

On behalf of everyone else dreading the thought of spending the next three months watching a less-mobile version of Fitzpatrick flummox his new team to another 5-11 finish, followed by another front-office demolition, I hope that I am wrong about Orton. But I can’t come up with a single reason to think that I am.