Not exactly how you draw up your first win as an NFL quarterback, but EJ Manuel will take it.
The Buffalo Bills were staring down the barrel of an 0-2 start, but got their first lead of the game with just two seconds left on the clock as they beat the Carolina Panthers 24-23 in Buffalo.
Manuel looked like a rookie at times, turning the ball over twice in Bills' territory in the second half on a sack-fumble and then an interception, but his defense stepped up to bail him out by allowing only six points off those two turnovers.
He didn't look like a rookie when it mattered most, though. His throws weren't particularly impressive on the final drive -- consecutive dumpoffs to running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson netted 12 and 14 yards respectively -- and the biggest play of the drive was a 20-yard pass interference penalty that moved the Bills down to the Panthers' 11-yard line.
He didn't force the issue by trying to make a dazzling throw, but instead, showed some veteran savvy by throwing to the open receiver and making smart decisions with the football.
"We knew the situation," Manuel said. "I didnít feel nervous or anything like that. We practiced it time and time again. Iíve been in too many situations before, not just in the NFL or in practice but also in college. We won games like that before. Youíve just got to go out there and operate the offense. If you canít get anything deep, which they took away, check it down and youíll get yardage that way so the guys can get out of bounds."
He didn't have to worry about anyone taking away a deep pass from the two-yard line, but the Panthers certainly didn't make life difficult for him in any way.
The Bills ran a pick route to the left side, with Johnson running the flag pattern toward the back corner of the end zone and rookie receiver Robert Woods running the two-yard in right at the goal line.
This created enough separation for Stevie to get away from coverage.
Doesn't get much more open than that.
His two turnovers were nearly backbreakers, but he was efficient in other areas, completing 69.2 percent of his throws for 7.6 YPA.
The Bills also finally began hitting on some of their bigger plays, with three plays of 20 yards or more and seven plays of 15 yards or more.
The performance was special, but it showed a lot about both Manuel and the Bills: mental toughness. They bounced back from a missed opportunity in a Week 1 loss to a division rival, shook off a slow start against the Panthers this week and were able to keep it close and give themselves a chance to win late.
As Manuel would explain, though, a chance to win isn't good enough.
"I think we all processed the loss (to the Patriots) and moved on," he said. "I definitely felt like the whole team knew we couldíve won that game. We donít want to be a shoulda-woulda-coulda type team. We donít want this game to be as close as it was but we won the game and thatís all that matters at the end of the day."
The Bills made the most of their opportunity, but they performed well in the clutch throughout the day, going 6-for-14 (42.9 percent) on third down and 2-for-3 in the red zone.
Who knows whether the Bills still would have scored without the costly pass interference penalty, but Manuel deserves no less credit for keeping his cool in the most important situation of the game, and helping the Bills come away with the win.
"He was focused. He was locked in," Johnson said of Manuel. "He was in there like a No. 1 quarterback."
The author is solely responsible for the content.