I'm not going to lie to you. When EJ Manuel's first quarter screen pass for CJ Spiller went right into the hands of Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Geno Hayes, my first thought was "Okay, just draft another freaking quarterback".
As it turns out, that interception was the low point of the game for the Bills rookie quarterback, who would bounce back and earn his first ever regular season road win. It was a step in the right direction for Manuel but it settles nothing as the season long evaluation of the Florida State product moves to its final two games. Manuel still has plenty to prove.
But as I said, there were more good plays than bad ones from Manuel, who one week earlier suffered his worst performance of the season. Manuel opened the game missing on his first four throws including one that landed in Hayes' hands. Manuel was set up for a good start thanks to the play of the defense. An Aaron Williams interception of Chad Henne on the first drive of the game gave the Bills field position at the Jags 25 yard line. But Manuel did nothing with the short field. His second down pass for Robert Woods in the end zone, sailed over Woods' head. Manuel bounced a pass to TJ Graham on third down so the Bills settled for a Dan Carpenter field goal.
The second Bills possession started at the Jags 43 yard line. On one of his easiest pass attempts of the game, Manuel had a hideous incompletion. A sideways throw to Stevie Johnson sailed way over his head. The pick by Hayes would end that drive.
Manuel played better from that point on, completing 17 of his final 20 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He led a nine play, 94 yard TD drive in the second quarter, hitting on all five of his passes for 59 yards. Manuel also guided the Bills on what turned out to be a game winning 80 yard touchdown drive in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. He was 4-4 for 51 yards and the Bills never faced a third down.
Manuel had some chemistry going with Woods as the two hooked up on three pass plays of 18 or more yards. Manuel also completed a 28 yard pass to rookie tight end Chris Gragg and a 27 yard toss to fellow tight end Scott Chandler. Manuel successfully executed a quarterback draw for an eight yard touchdown run. The Bills were perfect in the red zone getting a touchdown on each of their three trips inside the Jags 20 yard line.
As far as the bad Manuel, you have the aforementioned first two possessions. There was a badly off target throw on a bubble screen to Graham. Manuel had a fumble on a sack that came on a blind side corner blitz. Jacksonville converted the turnover into a touchdown that tied the game at 20 in the third quarter. For the third straight game, the Bills fastest wide receivers, Graham and Marquise Goodwin, combined for no catches. But Manuel did throw a nice deep ball for Goodwin that drew a key pass interference penalty on one of the Bills TD drives.
As I said, the way the game started I thought I'd be brushing up on the quarterback Class of 2014 by dinner time but Manuel's performance meant I didn't have to do any studying….at least not yet.
It was a strange day for the Bills defense, who you'd think were primed for a big day against an ineffective Jaguars defense which was playing without its best running back, Maurice Jones-Drew and its top wide receiver, Cecil Shorts.
On the positive, the defense came up with four takeaways and they were all important. Aaron Williams first quarter interception and 34 yard return led to a Dan Carpenter field goal that made it 3-0 Bills. Nickell Robey forced a fumble and recovered it, ending a Jacksonville drive at the Bills 38 yard line. The Bills turned that into a field goal at the end of the first half which gave them a 20-10 lead.
What looked like a sure fire touchdown run by Denard Robinson turned into a touchback and Bills ball when Aaron Williams forced a fumble at the one yard line and Stephon Gilmore came up with an interception in the end zone on third and goal with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, preserving the Bills 27-20 lead.
The defense also came up with the game sealing stop on the Jags final possession but Mike Pettine's crew had trouble stopping the run, struggled on third downs and gave up too many big plays. A Jaguars team that came in averaging 76 yards rushing a game, ran for 159 against the Bills. Jordan Todman, who started in place of Jones-Drew, had 109 yards on the ground.
Jacksonville had a way too high 53% success rate on third down including conversion on third and seven three different times. The Jags converted twice on third and nine and another time on a third and 12.
Buffalo also gave up big runs of 16, 24 and 33 yards and pass plays of 25 and 30 yards.