JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For awhile there, it seems as though EJ Manuel might have an even worse game that he had the week before in Tampa. Manuel missed on his first four passes here Sunday. His fourth throw was a horrendous pass to the left flat that was picked off by Jaguars linebacker Geno Hayes and returned 28 yards, leading to a Jacksonville field goal.
Coach Doug Marrone said he could almost hear the critics at that point, wondering if he might pull Manuel from the game to avoid even further humiliation. But Marrone never considered it. Manuel pulled himself together. Helped by a strong running game, he completed 17 of his final 20 passes and led the Bills to a 27-20 victory over the Jags.
Manuel, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, said the Bills didn't changed anything after their slow start.
"I don't think anything changed," Manuel said. "It's the flow of the game. It happens in football. Sometimes you're going to start slow. Sometimes you start fast."
One thing that changed was the offense's ability so sustain drives on the road. Manuel led the Bills on a 94-yard TD drive early in the second quarter, finishing it with a 7-yard TD pass to Robert Woods. Early in the fourth quarter, after the Jags had scored 10 straight points to tie the game, 20-all, Manuel engineered a nine-play, 80-yard drive to the go-ahead score -- a 1-yard TD pass to wide-open fullback Frank Summers.
"I think that's a part of our maturation as an offense," Manuel said, "especially as young guys
in the skill positions, understanding the situations. Definitely on third downs. I think we converted a lot better on third down that we did last week. So that was huge to keep those drives and make them even longer."
Against the Bucs, the Bills were a woeful 1-for-11 on third down. They improved to 5-for-13 against Jacksonville. The biggest might have been an interference call on Alan Ball on third-and-2from the Jags' 26 during the Bills' first TD drive.
It was Manuel's first road win of his rookie season. He was injured when Chad Lewis led the Bills to their other road win this year in Miami. I asked him if getting the first road win was harder than he'd expected.
"Not really," Manuel said with a laugh. " It was just a good win for us. I think it's the next
win. Going back to Buffalo, we're excited about that. I think we'll have an advantage with a little weather against Miami. So it should be a good one."