Buffalo’s season may not have gone as fans had wanted, but the team still had its fair share of big plays. The majority of the Bills’ biggest plays came from the defense, but did a defensive player partake in Buffalo’s play of the year?
The candidates for Buffalo’s Play of the Year:
- EJ Manuel finds Stevie Johnson for the game-winning touchdown with 2 seconds remaining against the Panthers.
- Kiko Alonso seals Buffalo’s victory over the Ravens with a late game interception.
- Mario Williams’ sack and forced fumble on Ryan Tannehill sets up the Bills late against the Dolphins.
- Stephon Gilmore intercepts Chad Henne late to preserve Buffalo’s victory over the Jaguars.
Buffalo’s Play of the Year: EJ Manuel finds Stevie Johnson for the game-winning touchdown with 2 seconds remaining against the Panthers.
Buffalo’s biggest win of the season came in Week 2 of the NFL season. Many didn’t realize just how impressive the win was at the time, but the Panthers finished with the NFC’s two-seed and a 12-4 record. Let’s look at how the play of the year came to be.
Leading 20-17, the Panthers received the ball with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game. Carolina did a great job of keeping the ball out of Buffalo’s hands and moved the ball to Buffalo’s 25 yard line with just under two minutes remaining. One more first down would end the game and the Panthers faced a 3rd and 5. Mike Tolbert was given the carry and rushed for 4 yards. The Panthers had two options, kick the field goal to extend the lead to six or go for the first down to end the game. Ron Rivera opted for the chip shot field goal and the Panthers took a 23-17 lead.
In his second NFL start, EJ Manuel was going to have to drive 80 yards in 1:38. Manuel picked up 34 yards through the air on his first three passes in the drive before throwing an incomplete pass to Fred Jackson. The incomplete pass was actually a smart play by Jackson. The running back was intentionally dropped by Jackson as it was a short throw and the Panthers had excellent coverage on the play.
Manuel and the Bills moved the ball an additional 15 yards down the field and faced a 3rd and 6 on Carolina’s 31 yard line. Manuel looked down field and attempted to throw a pass to Stevie Johnson. The pass was intercepted at Carolina’s seven yard line by Colin Jones and it seemed that the game was over. However, a defensive pass interference call on Luke Kuechly gave the Bills the ball on the Panthers’ 11 yard line. With 14 seconds remaining, EJ Manuel took the snap and scrambled. The quarterback attempted to get into the end zone but was knocked out at the two yard line.
Buffalo had six seconds left, enough time for one or two plays. The Bills’ next and final offensive play started with Manuel and the Bills in the shotgun formation. To Manuel’s far left was Chris Hogan, and inside was Stevie Johnson. Upon taking the snap, Hogan ran a slant route while Johnson ran to the back corner of the end zone. Carolina’s defensive backs blew the coverage and left Johnson wide open in the end zone. Manuel threw a fade pass and Johnson hauled it in to tie the game.
Dan Carpenter’s extra point gave the Bills a 24-23 lead with two seconds remaining. A short kickoff gave the Panthers the ball on their 40, but Kiko Alonso sealed the win with a sack of Cam Newton.
Buffalo’s first win of the season was also their most impressive. EJ Manuel led a great drive and showed a flair for the dramatic late in the game. Manuel and Johnson’s chemistry was evident that day, and it should provide some hope for the Bills moving forward.
Here’s to hoping that EJ Manuel wins many Maffies for Play of the Year in his career.