Rapid Reactions Week 15: Florida Football Redux

Buffalo Bills 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 20

How did the Bills win this game? Who had the largest impact? Here are my thoughts.

With the Bills out of the playoff picture before this game, for all intents and purposes, I was not watching this game looking for a win. I, and perhaps many others, went into this game watching for a few more specific things. Would the Bills finally be able to bounce back from a tough loss to Atlanta two weeks ago and the beat-down they suffered at Tampa Bay? Would the running game find its footing again? Could the once solid offensive line rebound from its disastrous effort last week? Finally and most importantly, what would EJ Manuel be able to do on the road? Luckily we had some of these questions answered, and in an encouraging manner, and on top of that, they won the game!

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Unfortunately it wasn’t all good, but there were plenty of good signs.

Playing to Your Strengths

By now, most every fan understands that the greatest strength the Bills have this season is their dynamic backfield of CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson. After last week’s disastrous performance on the ground (Manuel was the leading rusher) the Bills needed a much stronger effort from the O-Line as well as the running backs if they expected to come out of Florida with a victory. The way the Bills ran the ball today makes last week against Tampa look even harder to explain.

Spiller and Jackson combined for 30 rushes against the Jags (Spiller 13-67, Jackson 17-80) as part of a combined effort of 198 yards on the ground for all Bills rushers. Granted, the Jaguars came into the game with the 27th ranked run defense, so the feat is not necessarily that outstanding, however, the Bills passed their own average by 60 yards, and oh yes, Manuel ran some read-option plays and kept the ball. The running game provided exactly what was needed to help EJ Manuel find his footing after a rough game. Speaking of EJ…

EJ Manuel’s Day

So one of the things that we as fans need to do this year is try to figure out if we believe that EJ Manuel is our quarterback of the future. After playing an abysmal game against the Buccaneers, Manuel had a chance to bounce back in a big way against one of the lesser pass defenses in the NFL. Instead of coming out of the gate ready to show that last week was just a rookie fluke, Manuel started the game 2 of 7, with an interception.

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

I’m sure many Bills fans were cringing, as I was, after the Bills firs two drives stalled after starting in Jacksonville territory, but unlike games past (at New York and Pittsburgh) Manuel found a way to right the ship. It didn’t take a superhuman effort, or a Tom Brady-esque performance to bring the Bills back into the game, all it took was a few big completions, and Manuel beginning to make the easy throws just that, easy. After his rough start, Manuel went 15 of 19 with two touchdown passes, while also adding another on the ground.

Also important to the turnaround for Manuel’s day was the involvement of Robert Woods. Woods caught 5 passes for 82 yards, including a nice pair of first downs; this is a combination we’re all glad to see back.

Okay, so this was not the dominant performance we were all waiting to see from Manuel to give us a better idea if he is indeed the future, but it is no less important. Perhaps just as important as a quarterback completely dominating a game from beginning to end is a quarterback’s ability to adjust to a situation, and bounce back from a start where not much was going right. This is not to say that it is irrefutable proof that Manuel has proven himself, but it is most certainly an encouraging sign.

There were also plenty of areas where the Bills struggled in this game, but the most glaring was…

The Run Defense

This is an area of the Bills team that I did not think I would continue to have to write about in a negative way. A week after giving up 165 yards on the ground to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I was looking for a sharp rebound by the Bills against the worst rushing team in the league. Unfortunately this was not the case.

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

The Bills somehow allowed Jordan Todman, who had never started a game, to rush for 109 yards on 25 carries. Overall, the Bills allowed 159 yards on the ground to the 32nd ranked rushing attack in the league, despite the Jags being without their best runner in Maurice Jones-Drew. While it was not a killer for the Bills in this game, it was the reason that the Jags were able to keep it close, especially on long runs that resulted in first downs. This is something that Pettine still needs to address. Perhaps it has something to do with the Bills aggressive pass rush scheme (still first in the league in sacks) but down the road it is something that will need to change if the Bills want to have hopes of competing for the division title.

Quick Hits

➢ Aaron Williams continues to make his push for a spot on the Pro Bowl roster. He had an interception (4 now), 4 tackles, and one very important forced fumble which the Bills recovered for a touchback.
➢ Manuel showed he still has plenty of confidence in Scott Chandler, targeting him a total of five times (5-54).
➢ The Bills, after going down 10-3, rattled off three straight scoring drives (2 TD one FG) before the half.
➢ The Bills totaled another 5 sacks in this game (league leading), and Jerry Hughes continues to make an argument for being an amazing offseason move with his eighth sack of the season.

Final Thoughts

So what can we take away from this game? Well, the Bills were able to come back from a bad start, and win a game on the road. These two things have been rare this season when done separately, but in this game they happened together, and that is something that was very nice to see. Hopefully, this is another step in the Doug Marrone era towards becoming a team that is better able to face adversity on the road, even more so because it was also Manuel’s first win away from home. It also seems that Stephon Gilmore’s game is indeed back as he followed up his best game of the season last week with another impressive performance, including an interception on a potential game-tying drive.

Lastly, our hearts all go out to Stevie Johnson. He was informed that his mother unexpectedly passed away Saturday, and yet he still suited up and played for his team. People can say what they will about his determination and value as a number one receiver, but his heart, that is unquestionable.

About Tyler Samer

I’m a Graduate of UB with a Masters in History, Currently working in radio producing at WBEN. Bills fan live or die. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Follow Tyler on Twitter at @TJSamer.