For the second week in a row, a Buffalo Bills game came down to the final few seconds. This time, though, the result was much different.
Rookie E.J. Manuel capped a last-minute drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with two seconds left as the Bills held off the Carolina Panthers, 24-23, at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Offense certainly wasn’t the name of the game in the first half, and remained scoreless until a 55-yard field goal by the Bills’ Dan Carpenter with 10:46 left in the 2nd quarter gave the home team a 3-0 lead. But Cam Newton marched his team to pay dirt late in the frame, as Greg Olsen hauled in a 13 yard pass with 18 seconds left to cap a 10-play, 90-yard drive and give the Panthers a 7-3 lead going into the locker room.
In the 2nd half, with the Bills drawing to withing 7-6 on a Carpenter field goal, they would force the Panthers to punt following a big Mario Williams sack at the 23. But a holding penalty before the punt by Frank Summers gave the Panthers the ball back–and they capitalized as Newton would later hit Ted Ginn Jr. with a 40-yard strike to put Carolina up 14-6.
However, Buffalo wasn’t about to give up the fight. A 40-yard pass by E.J. Manuel to Johnson, followed by a defensive holding set up a 1st and goal at the 4, led to a Fred Jackson run to make it 14-12 and a two-point conversion to Robert Woods to tie it up at 14.
Right before the 4th quarter, a big turnover by Manuel deep in Bills territory gave the Panthers the ball back, but they had to settle for a field goal to get it to 17-14. On the Bills’ ensuing drive, Manuel was picked off by Luke Kuechly at the 26–but again, the Bills forced a field goal and it was 20-14 Panthers. Buffalo drew within 20-17 on a 48-yarder by Carpenter behind a long run by Spiller, while another Panthers drive short of the end zone and another Gano field goal with 1:39 left made it 23-17.
But 1:39 was plenty of time for Manuel to put together the first-game winning drive of his career. With no time outs remaining, the rookie would march his team down the field, helped by a potential interception that was wiped out by a pass interference by Kuechly. That set up the winning play–a two-yard pass to Johnson–to give the Bills the win and send the Buffalo faithful home happy to the sounds of “Sweet Caroline”.
Manuel shook off a rough start and finished 27-39 for 296 yards and a touchdown, the potential game-winning score, to Johnson. Spiller recorded 103 yards on 16 carries, while Johnson ended the day with eight catches for 111 yards despite a slow start of his own.
Newton looked great at times, using his feet to avoid some sure sacks, but did go down six times–a team record 4.5 at the hands of Mario Williams. He finished 21-38 for 229 yards and two scores.
Buffalo heads to MetLife Stadium to take on the Jets in an AFC East battle next week, while the Panthers look for their first win as they host the Giants.