Kyle Orton has received nothing but praise since taking over as the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.
He hasn’t dramatically increased the offense’s production, nor has that unit taken care of the ball any better since the move was made, but it’s Orton’s veteran leadership that has the Bills buzzing and seeking a fourth victory in five games Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.
Buffalo went 2-2 with second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, averaging 320.8 yards and committing three turnovers. Coach Doug Marrone felt a change was necessary with Manuel completing just 58.0 percent of his passes.
Enter Orton, who has guided the Bills to victories in three of his four starts. Buffalo is coming off its bye week after defeating the Jets 43-23 on Oct. 26, scoring its most points since beating Cincinnati 49-31 on Nov. 21, 2010.
The Bills (5-3) have seen a modest increase to 333.0 yards per game under Orton, and they’ve turned the ball over eight times. But his work ethic has impressed the entire club.
The wins don’t hurt, either.
"I don’t know yet because it’s still such a young season, but I think it’s very promising the way he’s prepared himself, the way he’s handled himself," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett told the team’s official website.
Receiver Sammy Watkins caught 17 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns with Manuel at the helm. He had 122 yards and two scores against Minnesota on Oct. 19, including a TD reception in the final seconds of a 17-16 win, before finishing with 157 yards and a TD against the Jets.
Watkins credits Orton for his increase in production, though it’s unclear if he’ll be on the field this week. The rookie hurt his groin during practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable.
"He’s a leader," Watkins said of Orton. "He makes the passes that he needs to make. He knows how to help us out on the field, put us in different areas. That’s what we need, a veteran quarterback."
Orton is taking his success in stride as Buffalo looks to win three straight for the first time since beginning the 2011 season 3-0. It also is thinking playoffs, which it hasn’t experienced since 1999.
"I don’t know everything, but I’ve been around," Orton said. "When you don’t have those veterans to show you the way, it’s tough on guys. We’re getting better. We’re preparing better every week and that’ll end up paying dividends on the field."
The duo of Orton and Watkins is something coach Andy Reid’s club is hoping to slow this week if Watkins is healthy enough to play.
"I’ve faced Kyle a number of times and I’m sure he’s not complaining about having Watkins – that’s a good football player and he’s producing," Reid said. "They’re one of the top long-ball teams in the NFL, so it’ll be a challenge for our secondary in that sense."
The Chiefs (5-3) are riding a hot streak of their own, winning three straight after defeating the Jets 24-10 last week. Jamaal Charles, who rushed for 90 yards in a 23-13 win over the Bills last season, had another solid effort with 78 yards and a touchdown to give him four during the winning streak.
”He’s so dynamic,” said fullback Anthony Sherman, who signed a three-year contract extension Wednesday. ”Whenever you get the ball in his hands, he’s capable of breaking a long run.”
Buffalo’s defense seems up to the challenge. Its massive front line has helped it rank eighth in allowing 326.0 yards per game and 92.3 against the rush.
Alex Smith will go up against the Bills’ 13th-ranked pass defense. None of his 11 touchdown passes have gone to wide receivers.
"You can argue that this is one of the best – if not the best – defenses in the NFL," Reid said. "It’s a great challenge for the offense and it starts up front with the offensive line."
Kansas City has won five of six after getting off to a slow start. It still feels as if it needs to earn some respect, though.
”When we were 0-2, nobody really believed in us. We’re 5-3 right now, and pretty sure nobody believes in us,” linebacker Tamba Hali said. ”Our goal is to continue to believe in what we’re doing and win games. That’s all that matters around here.”
Bills running back Fred Jackson is hoping to return soon from a groin injury suffered against Minnesota, though he could be held out for this contest with the next game being Thursday against Miami. Jackson is listed as questionable, but Marrone said Friday that he is not ready to play.
C.J. Spiller also went down with a broken collarbone against the Vikings, and Boobie Dixon has received most of the carries in the duo’s absence.
The Chiefs have activated linebacker Joe Mays from short-term injured reserve and waived linebacker Jerry Franklin. Mays has been on IR since training camp, when he needed surgery on his injured wrist.