What a drive. What. A. Drive. The Bills haven't always lost this sort of game. A couple of seasons ago they pulled out late wins against Oakland and New England and the stadium seemed like it was the greatest place you could be.
That's what happens when you win and in the process pretty much blow the minds of your fans.
EJ Manuel, who turned the ball over on consecutive 2nd half drives deep in Buffalo territory, drove the Bills 80 yards in 1:36 with no timeouts and never really looked that harried. No doubt Bills fans were worried that he was just checking it down and that the clock would get them. Manuel caught something of a break when a pass interference penalty on Carolina wiped out what would have been a third Manuel turnover. Whatever.
That call set the Bills up with a first down at the Carolina 11 yard line with 14 seconds to go. A 9 yard scramble by Manuel gets them to the 2 with 6 second to go. I love this play. Manuel takes enough of a chance to see if he can get to the pylon for the winning score but realizes soon enough that he isn't going to make it. Rather than let his emotions get the better of him and try to dive in, Manuel thinks better of it and gets out of bounds. That is just a great job by Manuel. You'd understand if he had tried to stick that one in there.
From there, the Bills found a way to bust Stevie Johnson wide open in the end zone and that is your ball game.
24-23 final. Pretty cool moments for me running across the parking lot to our post game broadcast spot. The Shout song is playing and fans who had bailed out early are surprised. One woman stopped me and asked, "wait, did they win?" The look of bewilderment she had on her face was tremendous.
I think it was entirely reasonable to be looking at this game against Carolina as an early sign of just what kind of season we were in for. The Panthers just do not impress fans as any kind of serious contender. Losing at home to Carolina would have been a sign for the most optimistic Bills fan that it could be a long winter. Rebuilding often takes time and likewise enduring the growing pains of a rookie quarterback.
Those 2nd half turnovers had us set up to already start wondering how long it would take for Manuel to figure it out. What EJ Manuel did Sunday was tip that budding narrative upside down and allow you to see, in a real NFL game, the talent and poise that pushed the Bills to draft him in the first place.
Manuel is, rightly so, the biggest and best story of this game. But really, all of the Bills big guys got off against Carolina. C.J. Spiller went for 103 yards. Stevie Johnson, in addition to catching the game winning touchdown, caught 7 other balls and went for a total of 111 yards.
Then there is Mario Williams. A team record 4 1/2 sacks of Cam Newton had a big impact. To my eyes, Mario Williams also did a great job of containing Cam Newton in the run game, staying home often enough to keep Newton from ever hurting the Bills with his legs. The single biggest thing I was worried about coming into this game was Newton running wild like Russell Wilson did last year when Seattle dismantled the Bills in Toronto.
So what do you know. The Bills pull one out and get their first road test next Sunday against the Jets.