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EJ Manuel was the first player to extend his hand after Thad Lewis hobbled into the Bills locker room Sunday wearing a protective boot. It’s always a challenge to find something positive in a loss, but for Lewis it came when he heard X-rays on his foot were negative. He suffered a sprain and should be fine.

“They said the X-rays looked good, so I guess that’s a positive, not a negative,” Lewis said with a laugh over the play on words. “It’s a good thing.”

You know the Bills are hurting at quarterback when Thad Lewis’ health becomes a major source of concern. Two weeks ago, he could have rolled through the locker room in a body cast without arousing the media. He was on the practice squad behind two rookies, Manuel and Jeff Tuel. He was barely visible on the NFL radar.

Lewis showed enough with his right arm Sunday to raise concerns about the condition of his right foot. The Bills can take comfort knowing he should be ready next week in Miami after watching his performance against the Bengals. If he’s going to be OK, there’s hope they’re going to be OK while Manuel recovers from a sprained knee.

Lewis wasn’t perfect Sunday, but he did everything the Bills asked but win the game. He threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, bringing them back from a 24-10 deficit to tie the game with 68 seconds remaining in regulation. He completed their longest pass this season on his first attempt, a 47-yarder to T.J. Graham. He dived for a 3-yard touchdown on his first series.

The Bills lost in overtime.

“I think I did OK,” Lewis said. “It’s never good when you don’t come out with a ‘W’. That’s the reason we play this game, to win. We did OK. We’ve seen some things that we can do better as a team. We’ll watch the film and correct the mistakes. But we’re right there.”

For a journeyman quarterback who had more teams (four) than games played (one) on his NFL resume, he certainly didn’t look out of place against the Bengals. Lewis completed 19 of 32 passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also fumbled the ball away early in the third quarter, which led to a Cincinnati touchdown.

Overall, he fared better than Tom Brady did against Cincy the previous week and better than Aaron Rodgers did in Week Three. The Hall of Fame committee isn’t going to confuse Lewis with either, but he never backed down to the same Bengals’ defense that held the Patriots to their lowest point total in 117 games.

The Bills dropped at least five passes. Lewis was smothered by Cincy’s defense for five sacks, but Brady suffered the same indignity a week earlier.

“He played well,” Bills running back Fred Jackson said. “He did what we thought he could do. He threw the ball well. He gave us an opportunity. We can’t ask him to do much more than he did. We just have to make a few more plays.”

Apparently, the Bills are still searching for a quarterback. Veteran quarterback Matt Flynn, released by the Raiders last week, was on a flight Sunday afternoon from Minneapolis to Buffalo. A source Sunday night said he’s in town for a routine workout that had been scheduled since last week.

Flynn would be Plan G for the Bills. Doug Marrone was hardly leading the cheers after losing in overtime, but he should feel better about Plan F once he takes a step back and considers the variables. Lewis played most of the game with a sore foot, which he kept warm while riding an exercise bike on the sideline when the Bengals had the ball.

“Overall, I was happy except for the turnover,” Marrone said. “I thought he was trying to do too much. He just has to put the ball away and not turn the ball over. That would be the one thing that I would be disappointed in.”

The Bills insisted they had faith in him before Sunday, but nothing instills confidence in a quarterback more than performing on the field. Manuel, for one, couldn’t say enough after watching from his perch in the press box. Lewis completed two deep passes, including a 40-yard strike to Marquise Goodwin for a touchdown that couldn’t have been more accurate if he walked down the field and handed the ball to the rookie receiver.

On the previous series, on fourth and 8 from the Cincy 22, Lewis read a blitz and found Scott Chandler one-on-one with defensive end Brandon Thompson. He identified the mismatch and lofted a perfect pass that Chandler took to the end zone to bring the Bills within a touchdown with just more than 10 minutes remaining in regulation.

“I thought he played great,” Manuel said. “He executed in every situation and made some great throws down the field, two touchdown passes. We had it drawn up in meetings and practice. I was very proud of how he played. I thought he did a good job.”

The Bills had their problems Sunday, but Lewis wasn’t one of them. They would be hard pressed to convince anyone that Manuel, an NFL infant with five starts in his career, would have made a difference. Lewis stepped into his passes and threw with conviction. He managed the game. He played like a veteran.

Buffalo wasn’t compromised by its quarterback. It was compromised by its defense, which missed too many tackles and gave up too many big plays. A breakdown on punt coverage allowed the Bengals to get into position for the winning field goal. The Bills again were a few plays from winning but lost.

Afterward, they were searching for positives. It was a loss, but it looked like progress. Two weeks ago, Lewis was a no-name quarterback on the practice squad. On Sunday, he proved he deserved to start in Miami, assuming he’s healthy.

“Any time you see him play the way he did today, it’s going to ease the minds of a lot of people,” Jackson said. “In that locker room, of course, we had faith in him. The way he played today backs that up.”

email: bgleason@buffnews.com