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Rookie QBs on display when Bills visit Jets

12:22 PM, Sep 20, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - Forget Rookie Bowl and call this one Chip on the Shoulder Bowl.

At least for New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who gets his first professional crack Sunday at the passer he initially felt grabbed that 2013 draft day glory that should have been his -- Buffalo rookie E.J. Manuel.

The two were acquaintances after meeting at a schoolboy football camp and occasionally dueled for college headlines while Smith starred at West Virginia and Manuel did likewise with Florida State.

When April came, both were first-round prospects. But only Manuel emerged with the prized "first-round pick" tag, going to the Bills with the 16th pick. Smith, who'd once entertained dreams of going first overall, instead slipped to the second round, where the Jets got him with pick No. 39.

The unforeseen slippage made Smith the 2013 incarnation of the player whom cameras are trained on as a fantasy of instant recognition gradually shifts to "please, someone call my name."

But five months later, he claims the scars have healed.

"I congratulated (Manuel) and that was it," Smith said. "I was happy for him. I was happy for every single guy that got drafted. I'm past that now. I hate to talk about it because I'm focusing on what we have here, which is a great opportunity, good team and we've got a tough matchup coming up on Sunday."

It's the first time in the six-decade series between the Bills and Jets that both teams will start a first-year QB, both of whom have endured a close loss to New England and a stirring comeback win -- Buffalo against Carolina, New York against Tampa Bay -- in their initial two games as pros.

But if you think years-old friendship will play a role, think again.

"E.J.'s a great guy," Smith said. "He's accomplished a bunch in his career and I think the world of him. He's also my good friend, so it's good to compete against a guy like that. But when it comes down to Sunday, there are no friends on the field. We're out there competing for our teams and that's all there really is to it."

Manuel concurred, sounding like a veteran in pointing out the significance of a divisional win and the importance of avoiding a two-game deficit after just three weeks.

"This is a huge game for us," he said. "It's on the road and it's a divisional game and it's definitely a game we need to win. We both lost to the Patriots and early on you don't want to get behind in the season. It just adds even more urgency."

Because both teams were in the draft-day market for quarterbacks, neither passer is a stranger to the other team's coaching staff.

"You notice the physical when (Manuel) walks in the door. He fills up that doorway," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "He was really a tremendous person and you can see why Buffalo's excited about him."

The excitement reached fever pitch last week when the Bills defeated the Panthers, 24-23, thanks to Manuel's two-yard TD pass to Stevie Johnson with two seconds to play -- finishing off an 80-yard drive and making Manuel just the fifth rookie to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback since 1960.

His predecessor on that list was Smith, whose Jets beat the Buccaneers, 18-17, on a Nick Folk field goal with two seconds remaining. He misfired in a chance for two straight late rallies, however, and instead threw three fourth-quarter interceptions in a 13-10 loss at New England last week.

"(Smith has) always been able to make every throw, he's always had a high level of accuracy," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "I see him going through progressions and I see him talking with protection. You're seeing that he's developing into a fine quarterback. He's going to create some challenges for our defense."

Smith was the first QB in eight years to overcome a nine-point deficit in his first game. Manuel is the first in 53 years to have a passer rating of 89.0 or better in his first two games.

"Both players were poised," Ryan said. "E.J. was impressive. Geno was for the most part, as well."

Neither, however, are comfortable framing the matchup as solely a battle of passers.

"That mindset would be selfish," Smith said. "It's about this team. It's about all of us going out there and getting a win for each other."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The obvious matchup for the Jets defense against the Bills offense focuses on handling Manuel, but the real key is putting a hold on running back C.J. Spiller. New York has been successful in limiting feature backs through the first two weeks, but Spiller is among the league's best, and, if the Jets go all in to stop him, it could indeed create openings for an elusive Manuel.

You can bet Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who held that role for three seasons under Ryan in New York, has been working long nights in the laboratory to concoct the right scheme to blunt his former boss. Expect it to feature varied fronts and timely blitzes to confound Geno Smith, who showed some tendency to make mistakes in the late going against the Patriots.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Both are 1-1 and neither is expected to seriously contend for a playoff berth, but the first two weeks did show at least some separation.

The Bills have more high-end talent on offense -- Spiller and Johnson, for example -- and Manuel has certainly looked the part for two games. Smith has been less consistent and the last quarter in New England left an ugly taste. Until proven otherwise, Manuel gets the close nod.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 20, Jets 19.

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