ORCHARD PARK - This afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Thad Lewis will become the 12th quarterback since Jim Kelly retired after the 1996-97 season to start a game at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.
Unlike Todd Collins in 1997, Lewis will be replacing an injured quarterback and not one that just concluded a Hall of Fame career.
"I can't say what's going to be difficult," Lewis said. "I just know the task. The task at hand is to go in there, prepare, go out there, let the play makers around me make plays and play mistake-free football."
In this file photo, Buffalo Bills quarterback Thad Lewis gets control of a bad snap during the second half of an NFL preseason game against the Detroit Lions, in Orchard Park. Lewis will start today against the Bengals.
That might be easier said than done for Lewis and the Bills as they take on the Cincinnati Bengals, a team coming off a 13-6 win over the New England Patriots.
"I think they do a very good job up front putting pressure on the quarterback," Bills' head coach Doug Marrone said. "They make you make quick decisions. Obviously they will bring guys up, mug them up on third down, also sometimes in between the downs. I think that they are getting healthier too. (Leon) Hall is coming back, he's a very good corner, that will give them more depth in that area, the linebackers can run and hit and they tackle extremely well, so they played really well in the field. I'm sure they want to improve on their red zone situation as far as the touchdowns, but teams haven't been in there as much on them."
In the win over the Patriots, the Bengals forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and held Tom Brady to 197 yards on 18 of 38 passing. On the season, Cincinnati has five interceptions, have forced five fumbles - recovering four of them - and have the NFL's eighth stingiest defense, allowing 316.8 yards per game, 221.2 of them through the air.
"Obviously I competed against (Cincinnati Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer)," Marrone said. "I have a lot of respect for him and he does cause problems offensively and does cause problems for opposing quarterbacks. And I think we have to do a good job as coaches, put (the players) in the right position and have the right game plan."
Lewis, however, is confident he'll be able to execute the plays offensive coordinator - and quarterbacks coach - Nathaniel Hackett will call today.
"My command of the offense is high," Lewis said. "It's not like I'm going in there saying, 'Coach we can't run this because we can't do it.' I'm putting in the game plan, I'm putting in the time I need to in order to prepare to run this game plan and we're going to run it."
Part of the game plan will likely include a healthy dose of running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, who have combined to rush for 605 yards on 139 carries and five touchdowns.
"If we can get the running game started early, it'll take a lot of pressure off of (Thad Lewis)," Jackson said. "Take a lot of pressure off our receivers and make their job easy. That's what we want to get done. That's what myself, C.J. (Spiller), the offensive line, what we're going to pride ourselves on is going out and being able to get this running game going early and taking a lot of pressure off of those guys."
Spiller was limited in practice this week because of an ankle injury, but that same injury didn't stop him from rushing for a 54-yard touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during their Week 5 matchup.
"Well, we know going into this game these guys are going to want to come in and stop the run," Spiller said of the Bengals. "Obviously they're going to want to make Thad throw the ball and beat them. I tried to tell him (Wednesday), that's a challenge he should embrace. When teams come up and want to stop our run and want you to beat them, you should go out there, embrace that challenge and prove them wrong."
The Bills have the third best rushing attack in the NFL through the first five games at 152.6 yards per game, but Buffalo won't be in a position to win the game unless its defense shows up to play this afternoon as well. Making things a little easier on the defense may be the return of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Jarius Byrd, who have both missed the entire season due to injury.
"My first time being out there, just going to give it all I've got," Byrd, who has been out with plantar fasciitis, said. "I understand the position I'm in due to my injury that I have a lot to catch up. Just going to give effort wherever I can (to) help the team. (That's) where I'm going to go."
Gilmore, who broke his wrist against the Washington Redskins during the Bills' second pre-season game, will be wearing a protective cast during the game.
"It'll probably be awkward," Gilmore said. "Just like I said, I have to get used to it and play with it. Just have to listen to the coaches and whatever they want me to do I'll do."
The Bills are in the midst of a stretch that will see them play the Bengals, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers. And through last Monday, those teams have combined for a 13-6 record, but that doesn't have veteran defensive lineman Kyle Williams worried that the Bills' season is in jeopardy just yet.
"You take (the season) one week at a time," Williams said. "All you have to do is look at the landscape of the league and see that anything can happen any Sunday. You can throw records out, statistics out, with that parody in this league, you have to be ready to play because you never know what might happen."