Bills coach Marrone makes case for strong finish

Don’t tell Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone his team has nothing

left to play for.

Though the Bills (5-9) are assured of extending the NFL’s

longest active playoff drought to 14 consecutive seasons, Marrone

is intent on using their final two games to get a jump on

preventing the streak from reaching 15.

”These next couple of games are critical. We’ve got to keep

finding ways to win and keep fighting through,” Marrone said

Monday. ”We’ll look to do whatever we have to do to win because

it’s critical for us to win. And I think when you win, you learn a

lot from that.”

Marrone got a glimpse into his team’s character in how Buffalo

persevered to pull out a 27-20 win at Jacksonville on Sunday.

Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel won his first road game. He helped

secure the victory by having a hand in all three touchdowns,

including the go-ahead score by capping a nine-play, 80-yard drive

with a 1-yard pass to Frank Summers with 9:35 left.

Buffalo’s defense proved opportunistic. Overcoming its own

deficiencies against the run, the defense finished with five sacks

and forced four turnovers, including cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s

interception in the end zone with 3:15 left.

That’s progress for a young team that was coming off two

demoralizing losses, and had dropped seven of its previous nine –

including two in overtime.

”I was proud of our team,” said Marrone, who rewarded his

players by giving them a day off from meetings. ”It hasn’t always

gone our way in those types of games, and we were able to turn

it.”

The win wasn’t enough to keep them in playoff contention. The

Bills were officially eliminated when the Miami Dolphins improved

to 8-6 with a 24-20 win over New England (10-4).

Those two AFC East rivals just happen to be the Bills’ final

opponents, starting with their home finale against Miami on

Sunday.

Aside from a chance to shake up the AFC playoff picture, Marrone

listed several other incentives to finish strong.

Buffalo has not won consecutive games since winning two in a row

in September 2012. The Bills are 2-2 against division foes this

season, giving them a shot to match their best record since going

4-2 in 2007. And Buffalo still has an opportunity to reach seven

wins for the first time since going 7-9 in 2008.

Injuries could play a factor.

Starting safety Aaron Williams is uncertain after he hurt his

ribs making a tackle in the fourth quarter. Williams was ruled out

from practicing Wednesday, and his condition will be evaluated

through the week.

Receiver Stevie Johnson’s status is uncertain. Marrone said it’s

not clear whether he will travel home to California to be with his

family after his mother died Saturday.

Marrone also revealed that Manuel continued playing Sunday after

spraining his left knee. Marrone doesn’t consider the injury

serious, and said he expects Manuel to play Sunday. The injury is

to the same knee that forced Manuel to miss the final two preseason

games. Manuel also missed four weeks of the season with a sprained

right knee.

Manuel’s development continues to be a priority.

The first-round draft pick out of Florida State got off to a

shaky start against Jacksonville by going 0 of 4, including an

interception. Manuel closed by completing 21 of his final 24

attempts for 193 yards and two touchdowns, plus another one

rushing.

That was a distinct improvement for a player who threw a

season-worst four interceptions in a 27-6 loss at Tampa Bay the

previous week.

”He got off to a very poor start,” Marrone said. ”But the one

thing about the kid, what you’ve seen during the course of him

playing, is that he can fight his way through that and learn.”

Manuel improved to 4-6 on the season, and 1-4 on the road.

The Bills’ leaky run defense has become a cause for concern. In

allowing 159 yards rushing to the Jaguars, the Bills have given up

an average 149 yards over their past five games. They were allowing

115 yards rushing over their first nine games.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org