In one of the more exciting Bills games in recent memory, EJ Manuel led Buffalo to a late touchdown to beat the Carolina Panthers 24-23. The rookie quarterback marched the offense down the field on a nine-play, 80-yard drive in 1:36 with no timeouts.
It is only one game, but there are a number of things that can be taken away from this game, both good and bad. Here are the top five takeaways from the Bills win over the Panthers.
There were a number of times this team could have packed it up and just said today isn't their day. EJ Manuel had two turnovers in the second half that gave Carolina a very short field. Both times the defense tightened up and held them to field goals, which was one of the reasons Buffalo won.
Then Carolina had a 12-play drive that burned over five minutes late in the fourth quarter, and the defense locked down when they needed to. They were held to a field goal for a third time in the second half and gave Manuel the chance he needed.
The Bills were methodical on that final drive, seemingly knowing what they were going to do every step of the way. This organization has struggled in tight games over the past couple of seasons.
This trend continued last week when they lost late to New England. Against Carolina though, they demonstrated a confidence that has been lacking in closing moments of games.
This has been an ongoing trend since Week 1 of the preseason, and once again the Bills had untimely penalties that almost lost them the game. They were penalized seven times for 55 yards which are low numbers for this team, but two of those penalties extended Panthers' drives.
The first one came on Carolina's first drive in the second half when Frank Summers was called for holding when they were punting on 4th-and-18. The refs said the penalty took place before the punt, so Carolina retained possession. That drive ended with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Ted Ginn Jr.
The second penalty came on Carolina's next drive just after Buffalo regained the momentum with a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie it back up. Aaron Williams was called for unnecessary roughness on a 3rd-and-12 for a hit on Brandon LaFell.
This was a bad penalty because the pass was really overthrown and extended the Panthers' drive. Luckily, they punted four plays later, but the Bills will need to cut down on penalties going forward if they hope to continue to win games.
It seemed like on almost every play Cam Newton was getting hit by a Bills defender. The team finished with six sacks and nine QB hits. Mario Williams was the star today by setting a Bills franchise record with 4.5 sacks.
The Bills were aggressive getting to Newton but did it in a way that didn't allow Newton to escape and make plays with his legs. Newton only got four rushes for 15 yards, and Buffalo did a good job of making him one-dimensional.
Through the first two games, Buffalo has eight sacks and 16 QB hits which has helped limit Tom Brady and Cam Newton from taking advantage of a depleted secondary. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been known for implementing blitz-heavy defenses, and so far it looks to be very effective.
Many wondered how EJ Manuel would be able to perform after playing in only two preseason games and coming off knee surgery before the season. Through the first two games, the reviews are good.
Against New England, it seemed like Manuel was limited with not many throws down the field. However, in Week 2 the training wheels came off, and the rookie quarterback responded well. Manuel finished the day 27-of-39 with 296 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The day wasn't perfect for Manuel by any means with the interception and fumble on back-to-back drives. However, looking at his cumulative stats through two weeks, he has dropped back 66 times with only two turnovers and been sacked once.
He has demonstrated great awareness and has not looked overwhelmed at any point this season. These are all positive signs for EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills organization going forward.
Last year, Chan Gailey struggled with finding a way to balance touches between Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller so they would both be effective. This year Doug Marrone seems to have found the secret formula.
C.J. Spiller showed the explosive play ability against Carolina that he had last year. He finished the day with 103 yards on 16 carries in addition to four receptions for 26 yards.
If Spiller is the flash, Fred Jackson is the muscle of this group. He only had 30 rushing yards on 12 carries, but he scored the Bills' first touchdown in the third quarter and was very effective in short-yardage situations.
If Buffalo can continue to have an effective running game like they did against Carolina, this will take pressure off EJ Manuel. Defenses will need to key in on the run, hopefully opening up favorable matches in the passing game that Manuel can exploit.