drove the Bills
80 yards in the fourth quarter, propelling Buffalo to 1-1. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
The Bills felt like they let one get away against New England last week. EJ Manuel made sure to prevent a repeat performance on Sunday -- with a little help from a timely pass interference penalty.
Manuel, making his second career NFL start, led a spectacular 80-yard touchdown drive in the final 1:38 against Carolina, capping it with a two-yard TD pass to a wide-open Stevie Johnson for the 24-23 win. The rookie was 6-for-8 on Buffalo's game-winning possession.
The real key play of the drive, though? A pass interference call on Carolina's Luke Kuechly. That penalty came on a 3rd-and-6 with just 21 seconds left and the Bills still 31 yards from the end zone. The Panthers appeared to have the game iced, as Colin Jones picked off a Manuel pass, but Kuechly was flagged for pass interference. That moved the ball all the way to the Carolina 11 and gave possession back to the Bills.
Manuel took advantage, scrambling down to the Panthers' 2 on the next play, setting up his TD toss to Johnson.
The finish was so dramatic and exciting that even the Bills' official Twitter account lost track of exactly what was occurring:
The Panthers had one last desperation opportunity to answer, but Cam Newton was taken down for a 16-yard sack by Kiko Alonso as time expired.
It was a brutal end for Newton, who finished the game with 229 yards passing and two touchdowns. However, the Panthers settled for three field goals of less than 40 yards in the fourth quarter, unable to punch it into the end zone and seal the game. Newton also killed the game's first drive by firing an interception to Alonso.
Manuel tossed an INT of his own later -- Kuechly nabbed a 2nd-and-9 pass in the fourth quarter to set up one of those short Graham Gano field goals. But he came through when he needed to at the end, with a major assist from Kuechly, to get the Bills to 1-1.
And an added bonus for Manuel: Win No. 1 came on his dad's birthday.
"I think we were both crying and just elated about the situation, being that it’s the first win and like I said, it’s his birthday," an emotional Manuel said after the game. "My dad has been to all my games since I was six years old so nothing’s changed. To see his face up in there before the game is awesome. Like I said, to have him in this opportunity and this situation is great."