Buffalo Bills - TeamReport
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT
There is a momentary collective exhale blowing through Buffalo, perhaps as strong as the winds that raged the past few days as the region dealt with its first serious snowstorm of the season.
EJ Manuel, the inconsistent rookie quarterback, rebounded from a horrific performance the previous week in Tampa to help guide the Bills to a 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. It took a bit for Manuel to shake the cobwebs from the debacle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the previous week as he played almost as poorly in the first quarter against the Jaguars. But once the second quarter began, Manuel found his groove and he wound up completing 17 of his final 20 passes, and finished with 193 passing yards and two touchdowns, while running for a third score.
Manuel's first seven drop-backs went like this: Four incomplete passes (one was dropped, three were inaccurate and uncatchable and one was nullified by a holding penalty); one scramble for 12 yards; a pass that sailed straight out of bounds and was ruled a lateral because it did not cross the line of scrimmage; and an interception, thrown right to linebacker Geno Hayes on a botched screen.
"In the beginning, we're trying to get him started a little bit, but he's not getting off to a good start and you sit there as a coach and say, 'OK, he's pressing,'" coach Doug Marrone said.
But Marrone, whose team is out of the playoff race with a 5-9 record, never considered lifting Manuel because he recognizes the rookie has to learn, and these bumps along the way must be endured.
"I think it's an idea of others," Marrone said, meaning some fans and media. "You have someone who is 10-11 games old now, and I'm a firm believer that rep-to-rep-to-rep you are getting better and better. That is what he needs."
Manuel, who played through a left knee sprain suffered early in the game, began to gain some confidence on the Bills' second possession of the second quarter as he directed a nine-play, 94-yard drive on which he was 4-for-4 for 59 yards including a seven-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods. Manuel then led a 72-yard drive on the next series, capping it himself with an eight-yard run on a designed quarterback keeper that gave the Bills a 17-10 lead.
"I don't think anything changed," Manuel said when asked to differentiate between the miserable first quarter and a 17-point second quarter. "It's the flow of the game, it happens in football. I think that's part of our maturation as an offense, especially with young guys at the skill positions. It was huge to keep those drives going."
Manuel took another dip in the third quarter, and he lost a fumble on a sack that set up Jacksonville's touchdown that tied the game at 20-20 just over a minute into the fourth quarter. But after the kickoff, Manuel engineered an 80-yard scoring drive that ended with his one-yard touchdown toss to fullback Frank Summers on a nicely-executed play-action fake.
"It shows how good he can be," running back Fred Jackson said of Manuel's bounceback from Tampa, and from Sunday's first quarter. "He had a tough one last week and it was something he put on himself that he has to play better and he did that today. He did a tremendous job for us. He gave us a chance to win a football game and we did."
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES
--The debate continues over whether Stevie Johnson is a true No. 1-caliber receiver, and the Buffalo Bills' sixth-year veteran has been taken to task for his occasional immature antics, but no one can question his heart, especially not after what happened in Jacksonville on Sunday.
Johnson learned after the team arrived from Buffalo that his 48-year-old mother, Rhonda Lewis, passed away in her sleep. After meeting with coach Doug Marrone, Johnson decided to stay with the team and play against the Jaguars. He made only one catch for four yards, and admitted that he wasn't always focused, but he deserves credit for giving the effort under trying circumstances.
"When I found out, I was already here," said Johnson following Buffalo's 27-20 victory over Jacksonville. "I talked to Coach and Coach gave me the option (to play or not). I went all week with the boys, and whatever I can do to help out the team, I think I should give it my all no matter what. It was tough, we got the win, and I'm sure she's happy about that. I was in and out (focus), but I knew what the main goal was and it wasn't taking away from the team and thinking about my mother, it was trying to get the victory."
Johnson did not share the news with his teammates, outside of cornerback Ron Brooks, who was with him when he got the call. The players found out in the post-game locker room.
"It says a lot about Stevie," said quarterback EJ Manuel. "He's a guy we all look up to, he's the cool guy for us, he makes a lot of plays for us, he's a difference-maker in our offense. To find that out, I didn't know, and I'm sorry to hear that. I think it was him not wanting to be a distraction to the team or have anybody feel bad for him, he just wanted us to get this win."
Marrone said Monday that it is too early to know whether Johnson will practice or play this week against the Miami Dolphins.