With 5:24 remaining in the first quarter of today's Buffalo Bills-New England Patriots match up, Stevie Johnson made a terrific catch in the end zone to put the Bills up 14-0. Then deja vu reared its ugly head in a most spectacular fashion.
Johnson lifted his uniform jersey to reveal a white t-shirt with the phrase "Happy New Year!!!" scrawled on it with what appeared to be magic marker.
For his efforts, the Bills' star receiver was flagged for a 15-yard celebration penalty and was promptly benched by Bills' Head Coach Chan Gailey.
For Johnson, this was his second notable such penalty this season, having been flagged for mimicking Plaxico Burress' self-inflicted gunshot incident after a touchdown score in the Bills' November 27 loss to the Jets.
Thankfully for his Bills' teammates, the penalty did not immediately factor into the outcome as the Patriots were forced to punt on the ensuing drive, despite the favorable field position afforded to them by the 15-yard penalty to Johnson.
For Johnson, these shenanigans could not be coming at a more disastrous time. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Although his play has improved, his propensity for taking unnecessary and costly penalties reveals a lack of maturity and underscores the sense of frustration many fans must have with this apparent selfishness.
Humorous end zone celebrations make the highlight reels and can serve as an effective inside joke for the player and any teammates in on the gag. However, as the Jets game illustrated, they can affect the outcome of the game in an unfavorable manner.
Win or lose today, Johnson has positioned himself as an immature repeat offender who simply does not learn from penalties and fines. His willingness to adversely affect his teammates for the sake of fleeting notoriety indicates a "me-first" attitude that bodes ominously for a team trying to cultivate a winning attitude and return to their winning ways. It also positions him as a risk in free agency, as teams considering his services will have to be wary of his demonstrated tendencies to take needless penalties and hurt his team.
Next Sunday will mark 12 years since the Music City Miracle ended the Bills' last playoff appearance. It is a strong bet that if the Bills return to the post-season in the near future, it is unlikely that Stevie Johnson and his baggage accompanies them.
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