AP File Photo
Buffalo Bills quarterback Thad Lewis gains control of a bad snap during a game earlier this season against the Detroit Lions, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — From practice squad to NFL starter: Quarterback Thad Lewis received the surprising news of his sudden promotion Monday, when he arrived at the Buffalo Bills facility for team meetings.
Shortly before 8 a.m., coach Doug Marrone pulled Lewis aside to inform him to get ready to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
“He just told me, `You’re starting,”’ Lewis told The Associated Press. “He gave me the nod, so I have to go out and do my best with it.”
After working out free agent quarterbacks Pat White and Dennis Dixon over the weekend, the Bills (2-3) elected to stay in-house in their search for an interim replacement for injured rookie starter EJ Manuel. Marrone initially announced the decision promote the 25-year-old Lewis to the active roster and have him start Sunday on his weekly show on Buffalo’s WGR-Radio.
“At this point where we are now, (Lewis) gives us the best opportunity,” Marrone said. “He has experience. He has played in games. He knows the system.”
The Bills also lost out in a bid to sign former Tampa Bay Josh Freeman, who was cut by the Buccaneers last week. Freeman instead agreed to sign with Minnesota late Sunday night.
The scramble to find a starter began after Manuel sprained his right knee in a 37-24 loss to Cleveland on Thursday. The injury will not require surgery, but Manuel is expected to miss what Marrone called “a few weeks” and potentially longer.
Lewis’ promotion came as a surprise after Marrone indicated last week that the team intended to conduct its quarterback search outside the organization.
The Bills had only one other quarterback on their roster, undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, who struggled in replacing Manuel on Thursday. Tuel completed 8 of 20 passes for 80 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Lewis has spent the past six weeks with the Bills. He was acquired in a trade with Detroit in late August, after Manuel was sidelined with a left knee injury and veteran Kevin Kolb sustained a concussion.
Out of Duke, Lewis split the most of the past three seasons on the St. Louis Rams and Browns’ practice squads. He has played one game, a start in the Browns’ season finale against Pittsburgh last year, when he went 22 of 32 for 204 yards passing with a touchdown and interception.
Describing his excitement level as “through the roof,” Lewis is attempting to keep his emotions in check. He’s received no assurances from Marrone as to whether he’ll maintain the job beyond this weekend.
“A lot of people are like, `Why aren’t you happy and jumping for joy,”’ Lewis said. “But I know it’s a business. And I know I have to get ready to help this team go out and win.”
Lewis is familiar with the Bills’ up-tempo style of offense and their players.
“It’s not hard learning the game plan,” Lewis said. “I’ve got a good grasp of it. It’s helped out just being here and doing the amount of studying I’ve been doing.”
That’s further ahead than he was than when he first arrived in Buffalo. Four days after being acquired, Lewis was thrust into action, backing up fellow newcomer Matt Leinart in the Bills preseason finale, a 35-13 loss to Detroit.
Lewis went 7 of 16 for 132 yards and a touchdown. Leinart was cut the following day, and the Bills thought enough of Lewis to sign him to their practice squad.
“I just have to go out and put my best foot forward,” Lewis said. “Don’t do too much because you’ve got playmakers around you. But do enough to put us in a good position to get this W.”
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