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What we learned Thursday: EJ Manuel's injury was key

Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel learned a tough lesson about getting out of bounds and avoiding a hit in his first nationally televised game, a 37-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

The momentum of a 17-17 game slipped away from the Bills after Manuel suffered a sprained knee on a preventable sideline hit from Browns safety Tashaun Gipson early in the third quarter.

It didn't take long to realize the sheen from backup quarterback Jeff Tuel's impressive preseason had long worn off. The undrafted rookie was ineffectual, throwing pop-gun passes up for grabs and failing to answer any of the Browns' four scoring drivers from the middle of the third quarter to the end of the game.

As the Bills and Browns each deal with injuries to their starting quarterbacks, Josh Freeman has to be wondering if one of those teams will be his next employer.

Browns brass clearly is not sold on Brandon Weeden. The Bills should be aiming higher than Tuel in case Manuel's injury costs him multiple weeks.

Here's what else we learned in Thursday's game:

1. Bills second-round linebacker Kiko Alonso just was named Defensive Rookie of the Month on Thursday. He celebrated by turning in the best game of his impressive young career, including a highlight-reel leap that combined the best attributes of Troy Polamalu and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. Alonso has rendered my Inside Linebacker Rankings outdated because he belongs at least in the "Pro Bowl potential" category.

2. Punt returner Travis Benjamin is doing his best to make Browns fans forget Josh Cribbs, one of the best return specialists in NFL history. The lightning-fast Benjamin's 179 punt-return yards broke Eric Metcalf's 1993 franchise record for most in a single game.

3. Rookie pass rusher Barkevious Mingo's difference-making speed jumps off the screen, but he remains a work in progress as a run defender. Coach Rob Chudzinski addressed a loss of contain on C.J. Spiller's 54-yard touchdown run and another big gain from Fred Jackson, both of which appeared to be Mingo's responsibility.

4. Browns coaches must not trust the inexperienced Bobby Rainey because Willis McGahee looked downright slow in averaging just 2.8 yards on 26 carries. Now that they're in first place in the AFC North, the front office should be on the lookout for an upgrade.

5. Weeden's rate stats (95.3 passer rating and 8.2 yards per attempt) against the Bills are misleading. The scouting report on the 2012 first-rounder remains the same as it was after his disappointing Week 1 performance: He moves as poorly as a late-career Drew Bledsoe, holds the ball too long, locks onto one receiver, doesn't read the field, throws with only one speed and is erratic with his ball placement. The Browns can't win the division with Weeden as the triggerman in this offense.

6. Thanks to an imposing defense and the playmaking ability of tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receiver Josh Gordon, the Browns have to be feeling cautiously optimistic on the heels of their three-game winning streak.

7. Spiller's long touchdown saved his stat line. Clearly hobbled by his ankle injury, he played behind Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice as the third running back.

8. After Stevie Johnson exited with a lower-back injury and T.J. Graham was sent to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury, the Bills were down to Robert Woods, Marcus Easley and Chris Hogan -- three receivers who had combined for zero career receptions entering the season.

9. Safety Jairus Byrd told the Bills he was ready to return from his foot injury Thursday night. Doug Marrone said after the game that it was a coach's decision to hold him out. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported earlier in the day that Byrd will make his 2013 debut in Week 6.

The "Around The League Podcast" handed out our quarter season awards this week.

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