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Backup QB EJ Manuel plays fairly well but Raiders still fall

DENVER — Backups never know when it’s going to happen. The last time EJ Manuel stepped into a regular-season game was New Year’s Day, and he was wearing a Buffalo Bills uniform, as he had for the rest of the first four seasons of his career.

On Sunday, he got his first regular-season action with the Raiders, forced into the game late in the third quarter, when Derek Carr left with a back injury.

“Of course, we don’t want anything to happen to Derek,” Manuel said, “but I got some snaps. I thought we did some things to get in position to win the game. But you’ve got to do more.”

A 2013 first-round draft pick of the Bills from Florida State, Manuel was signed as a free agent in March. He replaced Connor Cook, who was ineffective when Carr went down with a broken leg last season. Cook is still on the roster, as the third-stringer.

Manuel started 10 games as a rookie in Buffalo, but his playing time dwindled. He backed up both Kyle Orton and Tyrod Taylor. Manuel made just seven starts in the past three seasons, including one in the final game of the 2016 season.

In the fourth quarter of his Raiders debut, Manuel and the offense started moving. Going no huddle and operating out of the shotgun, Manuel completed five passes in a row and got the Raiders into field-goal range.

“I think it was just a matter of getting in a rhythm,” he said. “Looking at all of the guys in their eyes, they were confident in me, which gave me confidence in myself. As a backup, you don’t want to mess up any things that they already have pretty much established.”

The field goal cut the Raiders’ deficit to six points.

“My hat’s off to EJ,” tackle Donald Penn said. “He came in and did a great job, with minimum practice reps. He drove us up and down the field. That tells you how much he’s studying and paying attention behind the scenes.”

When the Raiders got the ball again, Manuel continued to move the offense. On 2nd-and-15, he looked deep for Amari Cooper who appeared to be open. But Denver safety Justin Simmons leapt higher than Cooper and intercepted the ball.


“I think I could’ve kept the ball more outside for him,” Manuel said. “That’s something that I can fix.”

Will he need to do so? Is there a chance he will have to sub for Carr again?

“Knowing Derek, he’s going to do everything he can to be good to go,” Manuel said.

Ann Killion is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist.

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