Manuel gets three series; Bills collect first preseason win
by Joe Buscaglia,posted Aug 8 2014 10:23PM
CHARLOTTE — Even though the Buffalo Bills pulled out their first victory of the preseason, many that follow the team will surely be happier based on the performance of second-year quarterback EJ Manuel instead.
The Bills’ top passer stayed in for three offensive series and not only did he vastly improve his stat line from nearly a week ago, but displayed poise and confidence while working in the pocket. Manuel ended the day completing 9-of-13 passes for 96 yards and took one sack.
While the team’s first-team offense didn’t get into the end zone against the Carolina Panthers, they didn’t turn the ball over to their opponents either.
“Well, I thought they did a nice job, especially EJ,” head coach Doug Marrone said. “I think he was nine for 13 and really moved the team. It was up to the people around him to really get the ball in, as I talked about before. We’ve been creating opportunities and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
The highlight of Manuel’s night was a 28-yard strike to Buffalo-native Mike Williams. The quarterback dropped back deep into the pocket, scanned the field and spotted the veteran Williams in a one-on-one matchup on a post pattern.
Known for his jump-ball prowess, Manuel gave Williams a chance to bring in the reception and the pair came away with the successful attempt.
“Yeah, Mike, that’s what he does. He always tells me to have confidence in him to go up and catch the ball and he did a great job doing it,” remarked the Bills quarterback. “I thought we did a very good job at executing what we wanted to execute.”
Buffalo’s first-team defense showed up with an impressive effort for the second straight week during the Bills’ 20-18 victory over the Panthers. In two of their three series, the defense allowed only two yards on three plays. Sandwiched in between, though, was a 10-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a circus catch by rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for a 29-yard touchdown.
Making his first ever start in the National Football League, Bills safety Duke Williams felt good about the performance of that side of the ball.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do. When we step out on the field, we expect to get a three-and-out every time,” Williams said. “When we don’t we’re a little disappointed in each other, but we never get down. We bend, but don’t break. They scored a touchdown early, but we were able to get off the field on our last possession.”
The Benjamin reception was the first catch in the young, first-round pick’s career — but he wasn’t the only one. Sammy Watkins, the Bills’ first-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, hauled in his first, second and third reception of the preseason, totaling 21 yards on the evening.
“It was a crazy feeling. I got the butterflies out of the way,” said the fourth overall pick of this year’s draft. “It felt good to just get my first catch and get the first down. It felt great and I got into the game.”
The Bills forged ahead in the second quarter after Anthony Dixon plunged into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown, and didn’t look back. The Panthers later turned a Jeff Tuel interception into a successful touchdown, but weren’t able to convert on the two-point try, allowing the Bills to maintain their lead. Tuel then connected with wide receiver Chris Summers to extend the lead once more and guarantee the victory.
The Panthers rallied late and scored a touchdown to bring them within two points and then even recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt with under two minutes to play. Their attempts were thwarted by a late interception by safety Jonathan Meeks, which sent the Bills home with the win.
Da’Norris Searcy also had an interception for Buffalo, while Jarius Wynn, Corbin Bryant and rookie Randell Johnson each chipped in a sack in the winning effort.
Carolina played the game without two of their best players at the start, with both quarterback Cam Newton and defensive end Charles Johnson sitting out due to their respective injuries on a list of 10 total players that were unable to participate. The Bills declared only five of their players inactive, giving cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Kenny Ladler, tackle Cordy Glenn, safety Derek Brim and tackle Edawn Coughman the night off from the game due to injury.
Buffalo gets right back to work on Saturday night with their 14th practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College. Their next preseason game isn’t for another eight days, when the go on the road once again and take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.