2:39 AM EST, December 18, 2013
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.
"Obviously we know that Stevie is going through a personal tragedy. He's been great as far as his communication. I think when it effects whether it's practice or the team we'll go ahead and report it, but right now I really don't have anything to report on it," Marrone said.
--The Bills defense has been better this season in many areas, but one that needs to improve is the number of breakdowns that are allowing big plays to occur. The Jaguars had runs of 33, 24, 16, and 11 yards, and Chad Henne completed three passes of at least 20 yards. That was inexcusable against a Jacksonville offense that is one of the worst in the league and was playing without its two best players, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wide receiver Cecil Shorts.
"You over-run a gap, miss a tackle or someone should be in there (the gap)," said Marrone. "You can't make those mistakes in this league. Mike (Pettine) doesn't like to use the term 'fit your gap' but you have to be in those seams when they come open. When we do it well you will get a lot of tackles for losses and no gains. When we don't defend it, we get hurt really bad."
--Rookie Robert Woods was struggling to find his groove after missing two November games with an ankle injury. After coming back, he was held to five catches for 59 yards combined in the losses to Atlanta and Tampa Bay. But in Jacksonville, Woods regained his connection with quarterback EJ Manuel and caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. Two of his catches went for 20 and 18 yards on Buffalo's game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
"Ike (Hilliard, the receivers coach) preaches to us to get separation, to get open and stay open," said Woods. "That's what we were able to do."
Manuel looked to Woods six times and five were completed. The two rookies hit it off right away back in spring OTAs, and early in the season it was clear Woods was Manuel's favorite target, even ahead of Stevie Johnson.
"Woody is a guy who I feel can always get open," said Manuel. "He made some huge, tight catches."
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB EJ Manuel suffered a sprained left knee, but he finished the game and coach Doug Marrone thinks he'll be fine for Sunday's game against Miami.
--DT Marcell Dareus suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return. Coach Doug Marrone expects him to practice on a limited basis.
--SS Aaron Williams suffered bruised ribs in the fourth quarter and did not return. Coach Doug Marrone said he'll likely sit out Wednesday's practice and be evaluated later in the week.
--WR Marquise Goodwin took a shot to the head in the third quarter, but he was able to continue.
--RG Kraig Urbik, who was a game-time decision due to an ankle injury, played the whole game.
--LB Kiko Alonso was questionable with a sore knee, but he played every snap just as he has all season.
--WR Marquise Goodwin did not catch a pass for the third straight game, but he drew two penalties that totaled 46 yards. He also returned two kickoffs for 38 yards.
--WR T.J. Graham did not catch a pass for the third consecutive game and was targeted only twice.
--DT Kyle Williams registered his eighth sack, he had four tackles, and two QB hits.
--WR Robert Woods matched his career-high with five catches for 82 yards and a TD.
--CB Nickell Robey was in on six tackles, and he forced and recovered a fumble late in the first half in Buffalo territory.
--SS Aaron Williams was in on four tackles, made an interception, and forced a fumble at the 1-yard-line that saved a touchdown.
--CB Leodis McKelvin led the team with eight tackles and he had one defensed pass and a forced fumble.
--RB Fred Jackson led the team with 80 yards rushing on 17 carries.
REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus -- After a terrible start during which he threw an interception on what looked like a screen pass, EJ Manuel bounced back to play pretty well. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 193 yards and two TDs, plus he ran for one. After missing on his first four passes, he completed 17 of his last 20. Stevie Johnson struggled with a heavy heart, playing a day after his mother passed away, and was held to one catch for four yards. But rookie WR Robert Woods picked him up with five catches for 82 yards and a TD. WRs Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham have now each gone three games without a reception. As for the line, it was spotty, and Manuel was sacked four times for 25 yards and also lost a fumble on one of the sacks.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Against a Jaguars defense that hadn't allowed 100 yards rushing in its last five games, the Bills tore through for 198, including 80 by Fred Jackson and 67 by C.J. Spiller. Of Buffalo's 25 first downs, 12 came via the rush. Despite Jacksonville's improvement, the Bills were convinced they could run and they attempted 44 rushes for an average of 4.5 yards. The run game definitely helped Buffalo's play-action passing game.
PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- Jaguars QB Chad Henne threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns, but the Bills also intercepted him twice and sacked him five times for 42 yards. What really hurt the Bills was their terrible play on third downs (Jacksonville was 8 of 15), particularly third-and-long, as six of those conversions came on third-and-7 or longer and were all converted via the air. Henne hit a number of critical passes to keep drives alive, but in the end, CB Stephon Gilmore and SS Aaron Williams had picks at opportune times. CB Leodis McKelvin was in on eight tackles, had a pass breakup, and a forced fumble.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Jaguars played without lead RB Maurice Jones-Drew, but rookie RB Jordan Todman burned the Bills for 109 yards on 25 carries. Once again, there were too many times when the run defense didn't hold up and the Jaguars, the worst rushing team in the NFL, wound up with a 5.1-yard average per attempt and had 159 yards. The Bills allowed four runs of 10 yards or more, but one of those runs ended with Denard Robinson fumbling out of the end zone when SS Aaron Williams made a great play to punch the ball out.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- K Dan Carpenter made two field goals from 42 and 40, and badly missed short and wide right from 54 yards. P Brian Moorman had a solid 42.5-yard net average on his four punts. Marquise Goodwin returned two kickoffs from the end zone for 38 yards. The coverage teams were solid, holding the Jaguars to 10 yards on three punt returns while Carpenter had four touchbacks on five kickoffs.
COACHING: B -- There were some red flags on offense early, but offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett got EJ Manuel settled down and the offense put up 27 points and 366 yards. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine watched as his unit was again ripped for big plays, four runs of at least 10 yards and three passes of at least 20 yards. Doug Marrone showed patience in not yanking Manuel early. Any road win is good and that's all that matters, but the Bills let the Jaguars hang around all day despite a roster that was seriously depleted due to injury.
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