Sunday, September 15, 2013

Coast's Reaction: Bills vs. Panthers

EJ Manuel, the rookie from Florida State, starting in his 2nd game, looked the part of the rookie for much of this game. He missed open receivers on more than one occasion. There were multiple plays that seemed like Manuel and his receivers were not on the same page. In back to back drives late in the third and early in the fourth quarter Manuel fumbled and threw an interception, both of which deep in Bills territory. Then on the next drive, after a long Spiller run, Manuel misfired horribly and the Bills had to settle for a field goal. What I love the most so far about Manuel is his ability to forget what has happened and rise to the occasion. The Bills got the ball at the 20 yard line with 98 seconds to go and no timeouts. For whatever reason, people seemed confident. This is the confidence that Manuel seems to instill in fans that no Bills quarterback since Jim Kelly has been able to do. Manuel engineered an 80 yard march that culminated with a 2 yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson and a Bills last second win. We haven't seen many finishes like this in Orchard Park over the past 13 years and we can all hope this game is just the beginning of great things for EJ Manuel.

I need to give credit where credit is due. Stevie Johnson stepped it up today and made some plays. Stevie had some key receptions on the Bills game winning drive. He also contributed a key 45 yard reception on the Bills first touchdown drive. Johnson ended the game with 8 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. Rookie wide receiver Robert Woods had 4 catches for 68 yards and made a clutch catch on a 2 point conversion attempt in the 3rd quarter. CJ Spiller eclipsed 100 yards rushing even with a long 30 plus yard run called back on a hold. Fred Jackson made key receptions on the game winning drive and also scored the Bills first touchdown. In total, the offense gained 436 yards compared to Carolina's 308.

Contributing to the win in a big way was the Bills defense, specifically Mario Williams. I have trashed Mario Williams as much as anyone since his first game here. In order to earn his salary, he needs to take over games and be a presence out there. He hasn't done that for the most part since he started here. 4.5 sacks (team record) and multiple pressures against Cam Newton is making his presence felt. How about the performance by rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso? He seemed to be making play after play all over the field. He made a great play on the interception on Carolina's first drive and helped on the sack that ended the game. Kiko had 10 tackles in all. The Bills secondary held their own again despite being short handed. Leodis McKelvin actually looks like he may deserve to play cornerback in the league. He was matched up almost exclusively on Steve Smith and Smith only managed 52 yards receiving. The Bills sacked Newton 6 times for 46 yards, compared to Manuel who was only sacked once. Through 2 games, without arguably their 2 best defensive backs in Gilmore and Byrd, the Bills have been able to contain 2 of the best/most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL and make each of them look rather pedestrian.

It wasn't all good for the Bills though. Despite thoroughly out playing Carolina in the third quarter in my opinion, the Bills made multiple incredibly dumb plays. The first was a holding call on a punt on 4th and 18. Say what you will about the call, but it was the right one. Sommers tackled the Panthers player and since it was before the punt, it resulted in an automatic first down. This seems like a harsh result, but it is the rule and the Bills need to be smarter. To make matters worse, Newton hit the Buffalo killer Ted Ginn for a TD a few plays later to give Carolina a 14-6 lead. After a great answer by Manuel and the Bills, the Bills defense stopped Carolina and on a third and long incomplete pass Aaron Williams took an unnecessary shot at a Panthers receiver. I like Williams at safety, but this play was one of the dumbest I have ever seen in my life. The ball was not catchable and out of bounds. Luckily, the Bills stopped Carolina again and forced the punt. The next 2 Bills drives resulted in turnovers. Despite all of this, the Bills were somehow only down 20-14.

The crazy third quarter made me somewhat forget about how irritated I was with the play calling of Nate Hackett. I thought he was way too conservative. When a draw was called on 2nd and 18, I almost gave up. I thought the Bills coaching staff was in general a little too conservative, with the exception of the two point conversion in the third quarter (which is a no brainer decision in my mind, but something most coaches don't do). What was really bad was when Marrone opted to kick a field goal on 4th and about 4 or 5 down 20-14 with 6 minutes left from the Carolina 30. It didn't end up mattering, but only because Ron Rivera might be the worst coach in the NFL. When you know you need 7 points to win and it is late in the game you should go for it...not kick a field goal and hope to get the ball back to score again. That isn't playing to win. On top of that, it was a 49 yard attempt, which is far from a gimmie for a guy who missed a 42 yarder on the same side of the field earlier in the game. After the FG,  Carolina had the ball and the lead up 20-17. They marched down the Bills throat and killed the clock on the way. They had the ball at the Bills 30 at the 2 minute warning and after 2 runs and 2 Bills timeouts, they faced a 3rd and 5 from the 25. Instead of going for the kill, they ran a draw and were stopped one yard short. It was now 4th and 1 from the 21 yard line. Rivera's options: 1) go for make it, game is over, you don't make it, you have a 3 point lead and the Bills mentality is probably to kick a field goal. Worst case scenario is overtime; 2) the other option is to kick a field goal to go up 6 and set yourself up for a loss with a Bills touchdown. All they needed was one yard to win. Of course, Rivera kicked it, the Panthers took a 6 point lead and next thing you know, the Bills win on a last second touchdown. (For a non-Bills fan) This was a very predictable result. Ron Rivera is 2-14 in games decided by single digits. I will be shocked if he lasts the season.

Great win for the Bills. Incredible day at OBD. Big game next week against the Jets (line opened at Jets -2).

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