FOXBOROUGH -- The New England Patriots learned Friday that backup Thad Lewis will start at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in the regular-season finale.

"I know he's been playing good. I know he throws that ball down the field," cornerback Aqib Talib said after word came that Lewis will make his fifth start of the season in place of injured rookie EJ Manuel. "They get a lot of explosive plays while he's in the game because he's not afraid to throw the ball down the field.

"He can run it a little bit. He's a good quarterback."

Manuel, slowed by a knee injury, has not been ruled completely out of the game, but his slow progress this week led to coach Doug Marrone announcing that Lewis will start. It isn't known if Manuel will be in uniform.

Lewis, in his third year out of Duke, is 2-2 as a starter. Last week, in Buffalo's 19-0 win over the Miami Dolphins, he was 15 for 25 for 193 yards and an interception. He has completed 60.2 percent of his passes, throwing for three touchdowns while also being picked off three times -- and has a 77.7 passing rating (30th in the NFL).

"I would say he's a little more explosive -- he's more of a runner," Talib said about Lewis. "EJ Manuel kind of runs around, he'll throw it when he has to. Lewis, he kind of looks to run a little bit more."

Lewis, who has 48 yards and a touchdown on the ground, will face a defense that has been hit hard by injuries and is expected to be without safety Devin McCourty.


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McCourty hasn't practiced all week because of a concussion suffered in last week's 41-7 win at Baltimore. Rookie Duron Harmon will start in his place.

"He's a very athletic quarterback," Harmon said about Lewis. "He has a big arm and he can run, so we know we have to always keep an eye out for him, especially in like third down situations where he can usually scramble for a first down.

The Patriots, who beat Buffalo on Stephen Gostkowski's field goal with 5 seconds left in the season opener and will clinch a first-round playoff bye with a win, know the Bills have a lot of weapons. Fred Jackson has run for 836 yards, and C.J. Spiller for 822. They also have combined for 72 catches.

Wide receiver Stevie Johnson has 52 grabs for 597 yards and three touchdowns for the Bills, but will miss the game after the death of his mother. Tight end Scott Chandler has 50 catches for 600 yards and two scores.

"They do have a lot of weapons," Harmon said. "You look at the weapons right at the running back spot. You've got those two guys in Jackson and Spiller that are very, very good running backs, so we know we're going to have our hands full and be ready to play.

"[Lewis] is a very good player. He's experienced and he's won a couple of games for them. He's shown he can throw the ball and he's shown he can run the ball as well."