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Thank You EJ!



I can't tell you the last time I felt that kind of a natural high after a Bills game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  I wasn't at the stadium for the win over New England two years ago.  It was one of those moments where you wish you could be out in the crowd celebrating. 

I went from depression to euphoria in 1:36 of game clock time.  Isn't it nice to be on the winning end of one of these games?

The Carolina Panthers had just taken  more than five minutes off the clock while extending their lead from three points to six at 23-17. Expecting another kickoff out of the back of the end zone from Panthers kicker Graham Gano, I realized Bills rookie QB EJ Manuel was about to get the ball at his 20 yard line and have no more than 1:38 to pull off his first ever fourth quarter come back and he'd have to do it with no time outs.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't skeptical and I wasn't hearing a little voice in my head tell me "the Bills always lose games like this."  But lo and behold the rookie QB gave us reason to believe.

Manuel was 6-8 for 51 yards on that triumphant drive and when Stevie Johnson caught the two yard touchdown pass, I grabbed both Paul Hamilton and Chris Parker(Bulldog,) who were sitting on either side of me, for a mini celebration.  You can't cheer in the press box so I had to be careful.

I just wanted to soak it all in as I watched the celebration both on the field and in the stands. 

As the game ended, Bills Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett came running out of the coach's box, jumping up and down and shouting "that's what I'm talkin about. Its a new age baby!"  You couldn't help but get caught up and think the Bills have finally found the quarterback who will guide them out of the wasteland that has been the last 13 years.

You wouldn't have expected Manuel's strong finish based on the first half, as he began the game missing receivers on a handful of throws.  But one thing we've already learned about the Florida State product is that he can bounce back from slow starts. 

We also learned he can handle adversity since Manuel personally accounted for two critical turnovers in the second half that led to a pair of Panthers field goals.  Those turnovers came on back to back drives but Manuel followed them up with a field goal drive of his own before authoring just the fifth 4th quarter comeback by an NFL QB in his first or second game, since 1960.

Manuel left the field as the hero but there were a number of Bills players who had key roles in this victory.  Stevie Johnson bounced back from his critical drop against New England to catch the game winning TD toss on a day where he had 8 catches for 111 yards.

Robert Woods had 4 catches for 68 yards but his most important grab of the game was a diving, arms extended reception on the 2 point conversion pass from Manuel which allowed the Bills to tie the game at 14 in the third quarter.

One week after being shut down by the Patriots, the CJ Spiller of 2012 was back as he blew through holes and exhibited elusiveness amidst Panthers tacklers.  Spiller had 103 yards on just 16 carries including runs of: 10, 21,28 and 46 yards.

Mario Williams had a monster game, setting a Bills record for most sacks in a game with 4.5.  He beat Panthers players with a mix of bull rushes and pretty moves.  He consistently generated pressure on his pass rushes and played well in run defense too, especially when it came to keeping Newton in check.

Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso recorded his first NFL interception, reading the play by looking at Newton and stepping into the passing lane.

The defense overall came to the rescue of Manuel and company, holding Carolina down when they were dealt a short field.  The Manuel fumble gave the Panthers a drive start at the Bills 16 yard line and Carolina would end up with first and goal at the four but the defense stiffened and the Panthers settled for a field goal.

The next Carolina possession began at the Bills 26 after a Manuel interception but once again the defense would only yield three points and not seven. 

Dan Carpenter may have played in his final game as a Bill since Dustin Hopkins might be healthy enough to kick next week.  If so, Carpenter leaves feeling good about his short stint in Buffalo.  After missing his initial field goal attempt from 42 yards, Carpenter hit his next three including a 55 yarder.

You can even give credit to Doug Marrone for his decision to go for the two points after a Fred Jackson 4 yard touchdown left the Bills down 14-12 with 4:15 left in the third quarter.  While it might have seemed like a no brainer, there are coaches who might still think you take the safe extra point and have another quarter plus to win the game.

I was preparing for a Buffalo Bills Football Monday where I'd be saying something like "you knew there'd be days like this" or "its part of the growing pains process with a rookie quarterback" but instead I get to talk about an energizing week two triumph and a rookie quarterback who is injecting life into long suffering Bills fans.  As Bart Scott would say "can't wait."

Would you take a last place finish from the Sabres next year?
  Yes - Exuberantly!
  Yes - But don't tell anyone that I clicked this
  No
 
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