Jacksonville, FL (WGR 550) -- It took fifteen weeks into the season, but Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel finally got his first road win in the National Football League. It wasn't pretty -- in fact it started out in a downright ugly manner -- but the Bills pushed away the lackadaisical effort from the prior week and won their fifth game of the season.
Despite the victory, the Bills were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday and clinched their 14th straight season without a playoff berth. But for a team that has lost five of their last six games and each of their last two, the win was sorely needed for the psyche of the coaching staff and players that make up the roster.
How did the Bills come away with the victory in Jacksonville over the Jaguars? Let's take a look at the game that was:
Bills wake from their first quarter slumber
- For the second straight game, the Bills entered their game in a fog. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it was too much to overcome down the stretch. Against Jacksonville, though, the Jaguars kept giving them ways to get back into the game despite a horrid first quarter on offense. To be clear, it was only the offense that seemed to be in a bit of a stupor to open things up. They got the ball twice in Jacksonville territory in the first quarter and once again deep in their own territory, managing to come away with only three points and 57 yards on 21 offensive snaps. Showing the inability to capitalize on bonafide chances, the entire bench was lifeless through the first 15 minutes and a bit into the second quarter. And then, they woke up with a 94-yard drive in the second quarter that kept them from drowning in Jacksonville. Upon EJ Manuel finding Robert Woods for a touchdown, an immediate energy boost was apparent along the sideline. If it wasn't for that drive, we might be rehashing the Bills' third straight loss and what would have seemed like an inevitable march to 4-12. Instead, the Bills tied the game and never trailed again.
Without looking at the coaches' film, Manuel played well enough to put the Bills in a position to win the game on the road. He wasn't fantastic by any means, but he at least provided little flashes here and there to keep fans of the team on board with him for the time being. He re-established his lost connection with fellow rookie Robert Woods and the two converted on five receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. Besides three plays early in the game, Manuel didn't wilt under the pressure of the Jacksonville pass rush all that often. He also effectively used his legs to get yards when, in his opinion, nothing was available downfield. That was a talking point for Manuel when he met with the media in the week leading up to the game, and he stuck to the prescription. There were times of blatant inaccuracy and poor decision making too, however. Look no farther than the intercepted pass that saw Geno Hayes end up with one of the easiest turnovers he'll create through his entire career. Even still, Manuel's game was a step forward from the terrifyingly bad output he offered in Tampa Bay. It's not the big leap many fans wanted, but it was a step.
Rushing attack helped jumpstart Manuel
- Last week there was an overwhelming domino effect going on against the Buccaneers that also could be viewed as a vicious cycle on offense. The Bills couldn't throw the ball because the running game wasn't going, and they couldn't run because the offensive line had their worst game of the season. In Jacksonville, all three of those phases improved to the point that Manuel could find some comfortability within the pocket. The running game was his best friend because that helped throw the Jacksonville defense off with some play action passes. All in all, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for 147 yards on 30 carries and took whatever mounting pressure there was away from their rookie quarterback.
Todman torments Bills
- For the second straight week, the Buffalo Bills surrendered over 100 yards to a player that has bounced around the league. First it was Bobby Rainey of Tampa Bay, and this week's assailant was Jacksonville's Jordan Todman, who made the first start of his career on Sunday. Todman, who was a very productive player in college at Connecticut, found the required room to run to continue the trend of Buffalo's head scratching as to why they can't stop the run consistently. The runner ended the game with 109 yards on 25 carries, and added another 44 yards on four receptions. The Bills have this interesting habit in recent years of allowing 100-yard games to what many would believe to be the most innocuous of names. Add Jordan Todman to the list over the past few years.
Aaron Williams takes over
- You'd have to really wonder what that game might have turned into for the Bills had Aaron Williams not been playing safety. On Jacksonville's first drive, he single-handedly stepped in front of a route and intercepted a Chad Henne pass, then ran it down into enemy territory to set up the Bills for a field goal. Then with the Bills emerging from halftime still asleep and up by 10 points, the safety's all-out effort play to pop the ball out of Denard Robinson's hand as he was getting ready to find the end zone kept them afloat and Jacksonville at bay for a little while longer. Since both Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore have come back from their injuries, Williams has steadily been improving and is playing at the level worthy of a borderline first-round pick. It just makes you wonder why it took so long for Buffalo to realize his true potential was at safety and not cornerback.
Too many chances for Jacksonville
- The stagnant Buffalo offense in both the first and third quarters gave Jacksonville way too much of an opportunity to not only get back into the game, but to possibly steal it as well. There's no reason that game should have been as close as it was. The Bills have a superior roster, the Jaguars were without their top offensive contributors and Buffalo actually seemed as though they had a solid plan of attack. While it's understood that each game will have it's ebbs and flows, there isn't a good explanation for why it was such a drastic change from one quarter to the next for the Bills. They need to play a more thorough game and not find themselves in the doldrums when adversity starts to arise. Allowing the Jaguars to not only tie it up at 20 in the fourth quarter, but to be just a yard away from tying it once more at 27 with moments to go should have been avoided. They got away with one in Jacksonville, but had they been up against another team with even a little more talent than what the Jaguars roster presented, the Bills very well could have lost that game.
All credit goes to Stevie Johnson
- Stevie Johnson has taken his fair share of lumps throughout the season both on and off the field, but it's highly commendable how he approached Sunday's game considering the circumstances. Finding out the night before that his 49-year old mother had died unexpectedly, Johnson didn't tell anyone besides head coach Doug Marrone and another player, and instead tried to help his teammates the best way he knew he could -- on the field. Johnson ended the game with only one reception for four yards, but it's understandable to think why he may have been in a fog. All people handle traumatic news like that differently, and Johnson very well may have still been in shock. However, it's a gutsy decision by him, and one his teammates won't soon forget.
Bills' MVP: S Aaron Williams - Two forced turnovers helped keep Jacksonville out of the end zone just long enough for the Bills to score a victory.
Bills' LVP: RT Erik Pears - Penalties and poor pass protection made him a major liability on the field Sunday.
Draft Order Update: Through 14 games, the Bills have the 10th overall pick for the 2014 NFL Draft. The only thing that can change between now and Tuesday is with the result of the Monday night contest. If Baltimore beats Detroit, then the Bills and New York Giants will be tied for 10th. If Detroit wins, Buffalo will have sole possession of 10th.
Up Next: Sunday, December 22 vs. Miami (8-6) at Ralph Wilson Stadium
- The Bills very nearly cost themselves another contest with a very herky-jerky, stopping and starting style of play against Jacksonville. They were their own worst enemy at times, but then they put together superb drives that cast the Jaguars aside just long enough to escape with a victory. That's been the story for most of the season, except this time the Bills just got it all into one game. An underachieving Bills squad almost cost themselves the game, but to give credit where it's due, EJ Manuel and company got the job done when they needed to. Now they have a road victory to build off, and likely got their rookie quarterback some confidence back as they look to finish the final two weeks of the season with a strong effort.