Orchard Park (WKBW) It was an emotional first victory for EJ Manuel. The rookie quarterback shed tears with his father in the moments after the win at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Manuel proudly brought the game ball with him to his post-game interview. A birthday gift for his Dad.
"I think we were both crying and just elated about the situation", said Manuel. "My dad has been to all my games since I was like six years old so nothing's changed. "This is the game ball right here. It's going to my Dad."
It's funny how much changed during the late 1:36 drive to close things out. Manuel played like a young quarterback early and often on Sunday. He missed receivers. His two turnovers in the second half appeared to all but bury the Bills. Still the first round pick shook off the growing pains of a rookie to show the poise of a veteran when it mattered most.
I was on the sideline for the final drive. Manuel looked the part. He was calm. He took what the defense gave him in completing 6 of 8 passes on the 80 yard march. Heck he even got out of bounds following his 9 yard scrambled down to the Carolina two. Then he finished the deal with the two yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson.
"I can't even tell you how that felt", said Manuel. 'I started crying right there. I'm not usually an emotional guy. I'm going to be able to tell my grand kids about that 20 to 30 years from now." "We knew the situation. I didn't feel nervous at all or anything like that. You've got to just go out there and operate the offense.", said Manuel.
"He was focused. He was locked in", said Stevie Johnson. "He was in there like the number one quarterback that he was and he drove us down there." Johnson continued.
Manuel finished the day 27 of 39 for 296 yards with an interception and the game winning touchdown. He became only the 5th QB in the NFL since 1960 to engineer a 4th quarter comeback in either the 1st or 2nd game of his rookie season.
Manuel still has work to do with some of his accuracy and decision making He will be the first to tell you that. Still I have to imagine the experience and confidence gained from Sunday's final drive will likely go much further then any film study. It was surely another step forward for the Bills "Quarterback of the Future"
Other Notes -
- Have to applaud the bounce back effort by C.J. Spiller and the Bills ground game. The running back rushed for 103 yards against a very solid Carolina front seven. "I was very patient today and kind of got in a good little groove. I can tell the difference", said Spiller. "I just had fun".
It was the 7th career 100 yard rushing game for Spiller.
- Mario Williams had his best game as a member of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Check that. The defensive end had one of the biggest games of his career. In his 100th career start Williams recorded a personal best and Bills record 4.5 sacks. When he didn't get to Cam Newton he pressured the quarterback on several occasions. Williams beat up on Panthers right tackle Byron Bell and was the impact player the Bills need him to be. He was impressive.
-Kiko Alonso continues to flash what made him an early draft pick. The linebacker is fearless. He finished with 10 tackles against the Panthers. Also recorded his first sack, and his first career interception on the pick of Newton on Carolina's opening drive.
-For a second week in a row stupid penalties cost the Bills. That has to stop. Sunday it was the undisciplined variety that had fans pulling their hair out. The defensive holding penalty on Frank Summers should never happen. Summers was charged with holding before a punt which gave Carolina a first down on a 4th and 18. Instead of punting the ball away the Panthers scored a touchdown four plays later.
The unnecessary roughness penalty on Aaron Williams on 3rd and 12 later in the 3rd was equally as frustrating. The Bills were hit with 7 penalties for 55 yards.
-Doug Marrone was also emotional on Sunday. Clouding his first win as an NFL head coach was the personal loss of a close friend. Rob Edson, a long-time official in the athletic department at Syracuse University passed away suddenly on Saturday. He was 45. Marrone worked closely with Edson during his time at Syracuse and was choked up after the game. "It's difficult for me because Rob, when I was at Syracuse, he'd always come in after the games and kind of cheer me up.", said Marrone. "I know Rob was watching and I can't stop thinking about that. My prayers go out for him and his family", said Marrone.