The Associated Press
The Associated Press
ORCHARD PARK —
Bills coach Marrone slow to praise EJ just yet
JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK — No, no, and six times no. Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone was in no mood Monday to join the chorus of praise directed at his rookie quarterback.
While Bills players and fans were still buzzing a day after EJ Manuel displayed poise and flair in leading Buffalo to a last-second 24-23 win over Carolina, Marrone wasn't making apologies for being a wet blanket.
Dramatic as the comeback was, Marrone insisted that Manuel hasn't yet arrived two weeks into the season.
"Oh, no, no. C'mon, no," Marrone said, before repeating "No," three more times. "Don't get me wrong, we're excited about that. And that's what we expected. But there's some other things that we need to get out of him, and we will."
Marrone preferred holding Manuel to a much higher standard by judging his performance over the entire 60 minutes rather than what the first-round pick out of Florida State accomplished with 1:38 left. With no timeouts, Manuel capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with 2 seconds remaining.
In doing so, Manuel delivered his rookie head coach and the new-look Bills (1-1) their first victory of the season. And he became only the fifth NFL rookie since 1960 to produce a fourth-quarter comeback victory in his first or second game.
Marrone instead pointed to several miscues, including two second-half turnovers — a fumble and interception — Manuel committed on consecutive possessions, both of which led to Panthers field goals.
"There's a lot of things that we have to clean up for him," Marrone said. "There's a lot of mistakes that are out there that he committed that we don't expect."
It's a tough-love approach Marrone is taking with Manuel as Buffalo prepares to play at the New York Jets (1-1) on Sunday.
Criticisms aside, Manuel showed encouraging signs of taking the next step in his development as the Bills' quarterback of the future.
Manuel went 27 of 39 for 296 yards passing to nearly double his production after going 18 of 27 for 150 yards in a 23-21 season-opening loss to New England. The Bills' offense was far more productive in generating 436 yards and 24 first downs after being limited to 286 yards and 15 first downs against the Patriots.
And Manuel was at his best with the game in the balance.
Starting with an 8-yard completion to Johnson in the left flat, Manuel completed 6 of 8 attempts for 51 yards on the decisive drive. He also showed his mobility in setting up the touchdown by eluding two pass-rushers to scramble 9 yards up the right sideline before diving out of bounds at the Carolina 2.
"That just shows you that he's ready to be the guy for us, ready to put all this on his shoulders," veteran running back Fred Jackson said. "And when given that opportunity to win a football game, he's going to do whatever he can to get it done."
Jackson played a role in bailing Manuel out of trouble.
With Buffalo facing first-and-10 at the Carolina 46, Manuel attempted to dump off a pass to Jackson in the right flat. With linebacker Thomas Davis closing in on him, Jackson chose to drop the ball in order to save time rather than get tackled in middle of the field.
"It just wasn't worth the catch to get a 1-yard gain and run 10 seconds off the clock," Jackson said. "So at the time, I was just thinking, 'I've got to drop this and preserve the time.'"
Johnson described Jackson's decision as a heads-up play made by "a savvy vet."
Manuel also got help from a pass-interference penalty against linebacker Luke Kuechly. The penalty gave Buffalo the ball at the Carolina 10, and negated an interception Manuel threw in sailing a pass over Johnson's head.
"We caught some breaks on that last drive, and that's what needs to happen. But (Manuel) stayed calm," center Eric Wood said, noting Manuel won four Bowl games at Florida State. "For him, it showed some grit and obviously some play-making ability. We knew he had it. He showed it before in college in different situations. But he showed it on a really big stage yesterday."