While plenty of Buffalo Bills fans were still kicking themselves over last week’s ‘could-have-been’ outcome against the New England Patriots, their rookie quarterback had already forgotten the loss. E.J. Manuel wasted no time in making up for a close, tough defeat in his first NFL start as the Bills came back to beat the Carolina Panthers in week two.
On a day where the Bills honored past stars, Manuel was heroic late. In the second half, the quarterback accounted for two turnovers (fumble, interception) but managed to step it up when it counted most.
After Cam Newton led a scoring drive ending with a field goal to put the Panthers up 23-17, Manuel took over at his own 20-yard line with about a minute and a half to go in the game. He went 6-8 for 51 yards on the drive, ending with a touchdown pass to wide receiver Stevie Johnson with just two seconds remaining.
As the time expired, Manuel walked over to the stands in front of his end zone to embrace his father — an incredible sight for any sports fan to see. A father congratulating his son on his first NFL victory.
The way Manuel engineered that last drive will stick with Bills fans for a while. A few months ago, so-called experts everywhere questioned Buffalo’s reaching for Manuel midway through the first round of the draft. But, it looks as though they knew what they were doing.
Manuel already shows a veteran-like presence in tough times, giving the Bills someone they can trust and believe in during crunch time. It is amazing to me watching this kid operate the offense in comparison to recent quarterbacks, because Manuel gives them a completely different dimension. If he can stay healthy, this core of playmakers in Buffalo could make some noise in the near future.
The young, mobile and confident quarterback still has a long ways to go, as his mistakes revealed today. But, in the end, it was his cool, calm and collective spirit that drove his team to a comeback win at the highest of levels.
Congratulations rookie, you earned this one.