A last second loss to the New England Patriots in Week One. A last second win against the Carolina Panthers in Week Two. After the Patriots game, the narrative was about needing to close out close games. The Bills responded against the Panthers. One minute and thirty six seconds, eighty yards, no timeouts, and down by six points.
A tough task for anyone. A rookie with two turnovers in the second half on consecutive drives? Only more heartbreak, right? Wrong. EJ Manuel, having turned the ball over on a fumble and an interception deep in Buffalo territory, looked as calm as a seasoned veteran leading the Bills down the field. Miscues that have plagued the Bills in recent years never came to fruition. A last second interception, thrown so many times? Nullified by pass interference. Always happens to the Bills on defense, not on offense.
All of it capped off by a Manuel scramble down to the two and out of bounds. Six seconds left on the clock. A terrible defensive breakdown by the Panthers’ secondary. A fade pass off the back foot and Stevie Johnson kneels down in the corner of the end zone before being buried under an avalanche of white Bills jerseys.
Yet there are still plenty of issues for Head Coach Doug Marrone to correct. The biggest of the issues is discipline. Penalties in both games so far this year put the team in bad places. They were not able to scratch back against the Patriots, but they were able to overcome against the Panthers. Multiple Panthers drives were extended by careless penalties. Safety Aaron Williams had an unnecessary roughness penalty, hitting wide receiver Steve Smith on an incomplete third down pass. Fullback Frank Summers had a holding penalty on a punt play prior to the ball being kicked to extend a drive as well.
A win is a win, no matter how ugly. Manuel was not the only rookie turning in a big day for the Bills. Wide receiver Robert Woods had some important catches, including the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14. Turned out to be very important points. Linebacker Kiko Alonso had an interception on the Panthers’ first drive. Undrafted corner Nickell Robey also turned in a nice day in the secondary, helping limit the Panthers’ passing attack.
Even with the youth movement, key veterans turned in big days as well. Pass rusher Mario Williams set a franchise record with 4.5 sacks on the day and just generally gave the Panthers’ offense trouble from the start. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams also made some key plays to help keep the Panthers out of the end zone late in the game. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson had the game-winning touchdown catch, plus some other key catches down the stretch.
So where does that leave the Bills? Even though they have limited the Patriots and Panthers from putting up a lot of points, they need help at cornerback. It remains to be seen if they are content to wait until Stephon Gilmore is able to return to the field or if they will look to other avenues to upgrade the position. Left guard has also been a big issue through two games. The Bills will be at their best when the run game is working. Colin Brown has held the offense back with poor blocking and technique through two weeks. Letting Andy Levitre to the Tennessee Titans in free agency has hurt more than the Bills anticipated.
Yet here they are, 1-1. The defense is worlds better than the unit that took the field in 2012. A quarterback that looks calm, poised and rebounds from mistakes. Maybe this win is what the Bills need. Proof that they can win close games. If the first two weeks are any indication, the ability to win close games is going to be a necessity. If that’s true, keep the aspirin handy, Bills fans. Your hearts are going to need it.