The Buffalo Bills have asked a lot of rookie E.J. Manuel in his very brief NFL career. The thing is, it doesn't seem like it's phasing the 23-year-old much at all.
A week after avoiding any turnovers and nearly eeking out a victory against last year's divisional champs, Manuel orchestrated an 80-yard, game-winning drive with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter to defeat the Carolina Panthers 24-23 Sunday.
The victory was Manuel's first as a pro quarterback and puts Buffalo at .500 going into Met Life Stadium for a meeting with the Jets in Week 3.
More importantly, the rookie's composure after a couple of first-half turnovers and then on that final 10-play drive may have cemented what the Bills have seen all along in the former Seminole, and what many other teams questioned before the draft.
"He was focused. He was locked in," wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who caught the final TD pass, told reporters after the game. "He wasn’t saying, 'I need you,' or 'I need you.' He was in there like the No. 1 quarterback that he was and he drove us down there."
Manuel, who went 27 of 39 for 296 yards in the game, targeted Johnson four times in the final drive, connecting on three and getting a 20-yard pass interference call on the fourth. Johnson was impressed with Manuel's poise throughout the game, and he told reporters the performance should definitely thwart any lingering qualms from naysayers still carrying doubts about the youngster's abilities.
"For him to get that or to control, for him to win the game like that being on the 20-yard line and working the entire field like that with no timeouts, that was big for him," Johnson said. "I think he earned a lot of respect, if he didn’t have respect for him in the beginning we’re trippin’ but I think he earned a lot of guys' respect on this team."
For Manuel, it was a day that he won't soon forget, though he knows the celebration will be short lived with a key divisional game set for next weekend.
"Honestly I just don’t know, I started crying there," Manuel said. "I’m not usually an emotional guy. I want to enjoy those types of things because that’s what you’re (here for), I’m going to be able to tell my grand kids about that 20 to 30 years from now.