Manuel struggles to find his footing

PITTSBURGH – One of these days, E.J. Manuel may be an excellent NFL quarterback.

Let the record show that Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013 was not that day.

Manuel, a rookie from Florida State, was the Buffalo Bills’ starter on Sunday, and one of the big reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to win 23-10 on a windy afternoon.

After facing Tom Brady last week and giving up yardage that was nearly measured in miles, a rookie quarterback was exactly the light snack the victory-hungry Steelers needed.

“We prepared and then ultimately we performed,” Mike Tomlin said in an ultra-short post-game session.

It was quick because there wasn’t a lot to talk about. The Steelers were competent, while the Bills could only dream of that status.

Put the two together, and the result was probably exactly what it should have been. You could make the case that the Steelers again settled for three field goals when they should have had at least one more touchdown. But after last week’s debacle in New England, there’s no sense in finding a lot of stylistic fault in any game that winds up in the win column.

If Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t made an ill-advised throw for an interception that was returned 57 yards on the Steelers’ first series, the Bills wouldn’t have sniffed the end zone until they got a meaningless touchdown with less than five minutes left in the game.

The Steelers made sure the Bills couldn’t run the ball. That left Manuel with more responsibility than he’s capable of handling this early in his NFL career.

This was a less-than-epic battle between teams that were 3-6 (Buffalo) and 2-6 (Steelers). Fittingly, it was played on a field that resembled a sandlot.

This is the time of year when the Heinz Field turf gets a little funky, and it was showing the effects of two games in less than 24 hours.

The teams were kicking up more sand than a Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello beach movie from the early 1960s (Kids: Ask your grandparents).

Postgame, grounds crew workers were using leaf blowers to scatter the sand to the sidelines, and there was enough to obliterate the lines on the field. It was a mess.

Aesthetics aside, there’s a practical concern, too. Players were slipping on the loose footing. The unstable surface may have caused an ankle injury that forced rookie safety Shamarko Thomas to leave the game in the first half.

Put the field on the long list of things the Steelers need to fix.

It was a bounce back performance after the game against the Patriots, which was universally described as embarrassing.

There was a time when the CBS cameras caught Manuel on the Bills sideline, reviewing some paperwork. You could have captioned the shot with, “Darn, I should have done this during the week.”

Still, the Steelers could manage only one takeaway, a gift-wrapped interception for Ryan Clark. The inability to change the momentum of games with turnovers remains a concern for the Steelers.

There are a lot of issues. How long has it been since the network broadcast included a graphic from the team chairman saying there are no plans to trade the franchise quarterback?

That was Art Rooney II’s effort to quash a rumor that was hot in the pre-game hours. It held that Roethlisberger was going to ask to move somewhere else, and that the Steelers would be willing to accommodate him.

Roethlisberger called it “BS” and presumably he didn’t mean “big story.”

The way this season has gone so far, the unthinkable could be on the table. The problem with trading a Super Bowl-winning, franchise-caliber quarterback is finding a suitable replacement.

As E.J. Manuel showed on Sunday, instant good help at the quarterback position isn’t easy to find.

Mehno can be reached at