FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel won’t start in the Buffalo Bills’ season finale Sunday at New England because of a small tear in a left knee ligament that won’t require surgery.
Bills Coach Doug Marrone revealed the nature of Manuel’s injury for the first time after practice Friday. Backup Thad Lewis will start.
“The decision process was injury-related, meaning that he was not able to do the things at 100 percent that, in my opinion, we need to do to win the game,” Marrone said. “So at the end of the day I made the decision because I thought Thad would give us the best chance to win this game with E.J.’s injury not progressing.”
Marrone said Manuel has a “small tear” in his lateral collateral ligament, which Manuel hurt Dec. 15 in a 27-20 win at Jacksonville. The tear is regarded as a minor knee injury.
Lewis will start after taking all team snaps in practice Friday. Manuel could still be active and is listed as questionable.
The Bills (6-9) have been eliminated from playoff contention but have a chance to win three straight for the first time since opening the 2011 season 3-0. The Patriots (11-4) have clinched the AFC East and can secure a first-round bye.
Meanwhile the Patriots released receiver Austin Collie for the second time this season Friday.
Collie, who contributed to the team’s Oct. 13 comeback victory over New Orleans, became expendable with rookie receiver Aaron Dobson returning from injury last week and with fellow rookie Kenbrell Thompkins close to a return. Rookie receiver Josh Boyce will miss Sunday’s regular-season finale with an ankle injury.
Collie had six catches for 63 yards in seven games.
The move came a day after the club released cornerback/special teams player Marquice Cole, with the two moves leaving the active roster at 51, two under the limit.
Also Friday, the Patriots signed rookie running back/slot receiver Sam McGuffie to the practice squad and released rookie running back Cierre Wood from the practice squad.
The two additions to the roster for Sunday’s game are likely to come from the practice squad. If McGuffie is one of those players, he could make his NFL debut.
The Patriots will be playing against Lewis for the first time after facing Manuel in their season-opening 23-21 road win.
“I know he’s been playing good. I know he throws the ball down the field,” cornerback Aqib Talib said. “They get a lot of explosive plays when he’s in the game, because he’s not afraid to throw the ball down the field.”
Against Miami, Lewis completed a 57-yard pass up the left sideline to Robert Woods despite Buffalo being backed up inside its 10.
The injury is the latest setback for Manuel, who is 4-6 this season. He missed four straight games after spraining his right knee Oct. 3 in a 37-24 loss at Cleveland. Manuel also missed the final two preseason games after hurting his left knee.
It’s a setback for Marrone as well, who a week earlier said he was “110 percent” confident Manuel would play.
Marrone began backing off that comment Monday when he declined to announce a starter.
Manuel and Lewis split practice time Tuesday and Thursday before Marrone determined the injury was limiting Manuel’s lateral mobility.
Lewis is listed as probable because of an injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder, which he hurt in a 19-0 win against Miami last weekend. He has a 2-2 record, and has thrown for three touchdowns and three interceptions since his promotion from the practice squad in early October.
“I feel very fortunate. I’m excited about the challenge,” Lewis said. “It’s just another opportunity to go out and make the best of it and help this team get a win.”
The Patriots are expected to play without safety Devin McCourty, who hasn’t practiced since sustaining a concussion in a 41-7 win at Baltimore on Sunday. That opens the door for rookie Duron Harmon to start.
The Patriots will face a Bills running game that ranks second in the NFL with 2,138 yards, led by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
“They do have a lot of weapons,” Harmon said. “So we know we’re going to have our hands full.”
The Bills placed safety Aaron Williams on injured reserve and promoted receiver Cordell Roberson off the practice squad. Williams had already been ruled out because of a rib injury.
Roberson provides the team with depth at receiver with starter Stevie Johnson missing his second straight game. Johnson has been excused after the death of his mother, whose funeral was held Friday in northern California.