First Downs and Flags: Manuel Shakes Off the Dust to Lead Bills to Victory

EJ Manuel made a number of mistakes Sunday, but led the Buffalo Bills to a victory against the Carolina Panthers with the game on the line. (Photo: Kevin Hoffman — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: Glenn Gifford

On two consecutive drives between the third and fourth quarters of the Buffalo Bills’ 24-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers, EJ Manuel looked like a rookie. The quarterback fumbled then threw an interception, which led to two Carolina possessions deep in Buffalo territory.

In the stands, there were a few groans in my section about Manuel’s errors. Groans are to be expected as Buffalo ventures out into the 2013 season with a rookie quarterback. Those groans quickly turned to thunderous cheers when Manuel led the Buffalo Bills on a late 80-yard drive for a game-winning touchdown.

In the Week 2 installment of “First Downs and Flags,” some of Buffalo’s best and worst efforts from Sunday’s win will be highlighted.

First Downs

Mario Williams

Mario had a great game on defense for the Buffalo Bills. He was a disruptive force in the Carolina backfield. While he may never truly live up to the money that he was paid, fans were not thinking about Mario’s contract when he was planting Cam Newton onto the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf.

Williams registered a team-record 4.5 sacks on Sunday, and also made an incredible play in the third quarter where he ripped down Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams with one hand while being blocked. It was a spectacular and long overdue day for Mario Williams.

Steve Johnson

It seemed as if Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson had a rather quiet day. On the statistics page, however, Johnson had a good game, tallying eight catches for 111 yards.

He really showed his value team on the Bills’ final drive. Johnson had three catches on the last drive, including the game-winning touchdown reception from Manuel, and drew a very important pass interference call that nullified an interception and kept the Buffalo victory drive alive.

Johnson also made some very heads-up plays on the Bills’ final drive to conserve precious seconds. On his first two catches of the drive, he worked hard to get out of bounds where failure to do so would have killed time off the game clock and Buffalo’s chances of winning. Johnson was money on the final drive, and his game-winning touchdown catch was a fitting way for him to cap his day.

First- and second-round draft picks

Second-round pick wide receiver Robert Woods had a productive day on Sunday. He only had four catches for 68 yards, but his contributions were very significant.

Woods had an incredible catch in the end zone after the Bills’ first touchdown on a two point conversion. The ball was deliberately thrown low and away from Woods. Woods was up to the challenge and hauled in the difficult pass with ease. Another great part of Woods’ game that will get little mention is his physical special teams play.

Fellow second-round selection Kiko Alonso also had a good game directing traffic on an improved Bills defense. Alonso’s efforts were highlighted early in the first quarter when he made an incredibly athletic play to pick off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Alonso’s first career interception would prove valuable when only a single point separated the two teams. Carolina was in position for a field goal had it not been for Alonso’s sure hands.

Alonso led the Bills with nine solo tackles, including a game-ending sack, along with an assisted tackle.While it is early in his career he looks to be every bit the part of a quality starting NFL inside linebacker.

The EJ Manuel rollercoaster ended with such a feeling of exhilaration on Sunday that few Bills fans will recall the mistakes that left them feeling sick. Regardless of Manuel’s fumble and interception, the poise and character that he demonstrated in the final drive was not the actions of a rookie quarterback.

Manuel went 27-of-39 for 298 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His final touchdown and the drive that led Buffalo down the field will cement Manuel as a fan favorite. He turned in a “gutty” performance and demonstrated that he may be worth his first-round selection.

Honorable Mention: Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine

The defense did a great job (especially in the fourth quarter) of limiting Carolina’s mistake-aided drives to field goals. They were stout versus the run and the secondary was effective despite their injuries.

Flags

It is difficult after a victory to be overly critical. I wonder how my article would have been different if the final result was different. Here are a few things in particular that really bothered me about Sunday’s game.

Penalties, Penalties, Penalties!

Once again, the Bills showed an alarming lack of discipline by racking up seven penalties for 55 yards. The most frustrating part about the Bills’ penalties were the timing of them. Buffalo has had many mental breakdowns at key points in games that wind up costing them points. Sunday was no exception.

The most frustrating penalty of the day that caused me to throw my hat down in disgust and swear was a defensive holding penalty by Bills fullback Frank Summers. This ridiculous penalty occurred when the Panthers were about to punt. Yes, you read that correctly, a pre-punt holding penalty. Summers threw an offensive lineman to the ground by using the back of the Panther’s player’s helmet.

The resulting first down kept the Panther offense on the field. That same drive the Panthers scored a touchdown. These mistakes are inexcusable and have occurred far too frequently between the preseason and start of the regular season.

On the next drive, strong safety Aaron Williams made a ridiculous late hit on a third-down stop that drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and kept a Carolina drive going. The penalties the Bills have taken have been a point of concern over the last three games. They seem to have made no inroads to correct this problem.

I was so furious after the Summers penalty I was hoping Marrone would send him to the locker room for the day. A review of the film showed the penalty was completely justified. I am unsure how Marrone is going to address this issue but make no mistake, it needs to be addressed.

Colin Brown

While C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 149 yards rushing Sunday, the play of left guard Colin Brown is preventing these numbers from being even higher. Brown is a liability on the field. He is a classic waist bender. He is a lazy offensive lineman who fails to use his size with any type of effort. It is a shame considering his massive frame.

Unfortunately for the Bills, it appears as though they have put all of their eggs in the Colin Brown basket. If Buffalo continues to play Brown, the only thing that will become obvious is their need to draft an offensive guard early in the 2014 NFL draft.

Justin Rogers

Rogers was targeted regularly by the Carolina offense Sunday. Rogers did have a nice pass breakup, but was beaten cleanly quite a few times, including on a 40-yard deep-ball touchdown from Cam Newton to Ted Ginn Jr. I shudder to think what Rogers’ day would have been like if the Bills’ defensive line did not get pretty consistent pressure.

Part of me feels bad for Rogers, as he is clearly going to be picked on by most teams. Overall, I feel that Rogers has done about as good as his talent will allow. The Bills need Stephon Gilmore back in the lineup.

Summary

The manner in which Buffalo won on Sunday goes a long way in helping fans forgive whatever transgressions may have occurred throughout the day. EJ Manuel showed he is more than capable of leading the team. His poise and leadership make many Bills fans comfortable with their signal-caller.

Buffalo’s defense was also very effective at limiting Carolina to field goals. This was especially important late in the game, when the offense was guilty of causing turnovers. I cannot help but think previous Buffalo defenses would have let this game slip away. This defense held strong. I look forward to a day when Pettine will have both Gilmore and Jairus Byrd at his game-planning disposal.

Some say that winning is the magic elixir that cures everything. I tend to agree.

Tags: Carolina Panthers, Colin Brown, EJ Manuel, First Downs and Flags, Justin Rogers, Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams, Mike Pettine, Penalties, Postgame Takeaways, Robert Woods, Stevie Johnson, Week 2

One Response to “First Downs and Flags: Manuel Shakes Off the Dust to Lead Bills to Victory”

  1. JoAnne Pautler says:

    Totally honest critique of the game. Well said, Your fan, JoAnne




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