Manuel's third outing, and his first NFL road game, didn't go as well. Facing off against the only other team to start a rookie quarterback on opening day, the New York Jets, Manuel completed just 19 of 42 passes (45.2%) for 243 yards and one score. The Bills lost, 27-20. It was far from a disaster, especially for a player making just his third NFL start, but Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett thought it was the right time to deliver an encouraging word. Hackett pulled out video of two of the NFL's best, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and had Manuel study it closely. Hackett was less concerned with the many great passes that Brady and Brees have put on tape, but with their poor moments, their moments under great pressure, and how they responded.
"It’s helped a lot, just seeing how those guys react to pressure and when they do things good or bad," said Manuel. "It’s been a good thing for me to see those guys have their mistakes and then come back from it and still do well. Any time you see those guys having trouble and battling through it and still having success, it’s very good for me."
Part of Hackett's message was to caution his rookie passer against getting too cautious after a bad moment or rough game. Head Coach Doug Marrone, who brought Hackett with him to Buffalo from Syracuse when he took over the Bills earlier this year, says the point isn't to just "let it fly" – protecting the football is still paramount and Manuel knows that well – but to strike the right balance between aggression and security.
Much like his good friend Mike Glennon, the Buccaneers' rookie starter at quarterback, Manuel is starting from a good base in terms of protecting the football. While Glennon has thrown 13 touchdown passes against just five interceptions, Manuel's ratio is a similarly strong nine to four. Manuel missed four games in the middle of the season due to injury, but when he came back he faced off with the Jets again and had a much stronger outing, while still avoiding turnovers. He completed 20 of 28 passes (71.4%) for 245 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 121.9 passer rating in a Week 12 37-14 pummeling of the Jets.
"I think it is a balance, you don’t want to go out there and try to be a hero because then you start forcing plays and start making bonehead mistakes," said Manuel. "Really you just have to allow the game to come to you."
Now the Bills' staff wants to see their rapidly-developing rookie string together several such top-notch performances.
"Obviously, the injury factor has slowed down the growth or the potential growth of where he could be right now, but we’re working along and he’s continued to get better," said Marrone. "Putting together back to back good games is extremely important, and creating a consistency not just only on the field, but off the field."
The Bills, who are 3-5 with Manuel at the helm, would like to see a few more marks in the victory column, too. Buffalo is 4-8 overall and out of the playoff hunt, and that has made it a little more difficult for Manuel to enjoy his rookie campaign. That hasn't changed his approach to his own development, however.
"My thought has been to just get better each game," he said. "Obviously we’ve lost a lot more games than we’ve won, so that’s always disappointing, but for me it’s always just get better each game.
"I think it’s going well. Obviously there’s some games I wish I could have back, but considering the injuries and the time away that I’ve missed from the team when I’ve had the injuries, you just have to battle through it. The season isn’t where we wanted it to be and for me it’s just continuing to learn and get as much experience [as possible]."