Miami Dolphins

December 19, 2013

Bills QB E.J. Manuel out vs. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins caught yet another break Wednesday when they found out Bills starting quarterback E.J. Manuel would miss Sunday’s crucial game with an injury.

Perhaps the Dolphins used up all their bad luck in October and November.

Because they’re catching most every break in December.

Two weeks ago, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown inexplicably stepped out of bounds 12 yards away from a game-winning touchdown.

Last week, the Dolphins picked up unknown safety Michael Thomas, who five days later made two season-saving plays against New England in the game’s final 30 seconds.

And now this fortuitous twist of fate: Bills starting quarterback E.J. Manuel will miss Sunday’s game with a knee injury. That means Hialeah-Miami Lakes’ Thad Lewis, who began the year on the practice squad, will start against his hometown team for the second time this season.

“Everybody needs a little luck sometimes,” Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said. “Nobody in this [league] can say they got no lucky breaks. Some people get more bad breaks than good ones. Sometimes you get a lucky break at the right time.”

Said offensive tackle Tyson Clabo: “How’s it go? You’d rather be lucky than good? If it takes a little bit of luck to win a football game, I'll take it.”

In poker, you want your run of hot cards to come late in the tournament, when the stakes are the highest. Football is the same way. You want to be the luckiest when the games count the most — late in the season and in the playoffs.

That looks to be the case in Miami.

Granted, Lewis beat the Dolphins when the teams met Oct. 20 — but he was more along for the ride than the driver. Lewis completed 21 of 32 passes for 202 yards, but didn't have an interception.

The Dolphins lost, however, because they turned the ball over three times. The Bills have won just twice since, and Lewis didn’t play in either of those triumphs.

“We’ll go back and study all of his games,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “When we were watching the cut-ups this week, Thad Lewis was on them. He’s a good football player. We’ll have our hands full.”

Perhaps. The Opa-locka native hasn’t been awful this season — he has completed 60.2 percent of his passes and thrown more touchdowns (three) than interceptions (two) — but there's a reason the Bills went back to Manuel when he got healthy.

It’s the same reason Lewis went undrafted out of college whereas Manuel was a first-round pick. Manuel is seen as the more talented and more dangerous player.

That’s not to say Lewis lacks moxie.

In the third quarter of the Bills’ win at Sun Life Stadium, Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins launched himself at Lewis’ head, hitting him with such force that he popped off the quarterback’s helmet.

Lewis wasn’t fazed. He completed a downfield pass, and was fired up. The Bills went on to kick a field goal that was ultimately the game’s difference.

“He’s real competitive,” Grimes said. “He can make plays. And he made some big plays for them in the game against us earlier in the season.”

The loss was just one of the cascading misfortunes suffered by the Dolphins during the fall months.

They began when Dustin Keller was lost for the year after a gruesome knee injury in the preseason. Weeks later, slot receiver Brandon Gibson suffered the same fate.

In all, the Dolphins have placed six players on injured reserve — including four expected to play large roles.

The Dolphins also blew a two-touchdown lead at New England partially because of suspect officiating. Then after the game, their star center — Mike Pouncey — was served subpoena papers to appear before a grand jury in the Aaron Hernandez case.

But that was all trivial compared to the month-long circus that followed Jonathan Martin’s emotionally charged departure from the team. The vast majority of the players had nothing to do with the bullying allegations, but they all paid a price.

Take, for example, Bryant McKinnie, who joined the team just a few days before it was thrown into chaos.

Fast forward seven weeks, and the Dolphins appear to have made nice with Lady Luck. Manuel won't play in Sunday's must-win game, and four other Bills starters sat out practice Wednesday with injuries.

“Football's football,” Philbin said. “I think the goal is to get this team to play at a consistently high level, week in and week out. Things tend to even out, officiating, luck, the bounce of the ball, all that kind of stuff. The better you play, the harder you play, usually the ball bounces your way.”

Figuratively, as well as literally.

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