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Immediate reactions: Bills 23, Ravens 20

blog by Nick Mendola  • 

So I suppose the world didn’t end last week. Who could’ve imagined a rookie could have a bad game during his first ever road start as a National Football League quarterback and not have it ruin his career? Football!! It’s unpredictable!!

Seriously, though, EJ Manuel played the best game of his quite brief pro career. He made savvy decisions, pretty throws and exercised his athleticism very often. It’s no longer possible to throw conspiracy theories about how his knee is still dinged up, which is nice. Yes he was picked twice, but one was a Stevie Johnson drop and the other essentially a punt. Not likable but not worthy of hate, either.

EJ Manuel, 2-2 as a rookie starter and largely responsible for authoring both of the wins. That’s a good start.

—Two sacks for Marcell Dareus. Perhaps now the “bust” talk can take a rest for the No. 3 overall pick playing a non-glamor position on a recently-bad franchise? He occupied space—as large gents are wont to—but also showed the explosive strength so evident during his time at Alabama. The “Mr Big Stuff” cut from the PA after he makes a big play is pretty hilarious, too (and that’s saying a bunch considering the song makes me want to chew on twigs).

—EJ Manuel’s “how did he get that open?” touchdown to Robert Woods was extremely encouraging on so many levels (and that’s an understatement). For one thing, Manuel started his throw when Woods was still even with the Ravens corner. Woods was on the outside and then broke inside to snag to the ball in-stride at the goal line.

Regardless of what happens with Manuel, Woods is already a special talent. His vision, speed and hands… broken record from the last few weeks, I know. Special guy.

—Kiko Alonso’s sneaky hiding interception came in a big spot, too, after Buffalo had given the Ravens a spell of momentum but his second pick was an even bigger one. Though it looked like it could have been overturned, his diving snag of Flacco’s fifth pick was remarkable. He’s always around the ball. Middle linebacker looks a-okay. Plus, Alonso looks like a caveman, which adds to the mystique.

—On the first play of the second quarter, EJ Manuel was chased from the pocket but seemed to forget almost immediately that he was being chased, leaving the ball out in no man’s land. It was stripped and Cordy Glenn made a mockery of falling on the fumble, gifting Baltimore the football at the Buffalo 27. Two plays later, Buffalo had also coughed up its 6-0 lead.

It’s another case of a rookie mistake that can be expected, but not repeated. There’s a guy coming to get you, EJ. Almost always, but especially when you’ve been forced to move.

—Industry-types who weren’t watching the game probably rolled their eyes when Flacco was intercepted for the second time, but it was an embarrassing moment for tight end Ed Dickson. He was open in the middle of the field, relatively free of Buffalo corner Nickell Robey, and let the ball hit both of his hands. It popped into the air and Bills safety Jim Leonhard made an acrobatic interception.

Leonhard also broke up a pass, first ruled a forced fumble, on the Ravens next possession and deserves a lot of credit for showing up on the season’s eve and immediately adjusting to the Bills system, even with the knowledge of his familiarity with Mike Pettine’s system. He’s just a solid, if unspectacular, football player who knows the game extremely well.

—After the Leonhard pick, Manuel went for it all with Stevie Johnson but had to throw the ball early due to pressure coming into his face from the right. The ball sailed over Johnson’s head and it deprived Ralph Wilson Stadium from what certainly would’ve been a ballistic crowd moment.

Fortunately for Buffalo, Fred Jackson made a cut reminiscent of his best moments in town on a 16-yard touchdown run just two plays later. The Bills were rolling.

—Aside from Manuel, the two most-maligned Bills from the Jets loss were guard Colin Brown and Justin Rogers. Both had better performances against the Jets, though one much more than the other.

Brown was a lot better, though at first blush it seems the Bills had most of their better rushes going to their right. The pass protection was improved overall, so Brown gets credit for that.

Rogers still struggled, including a severe burn by Smith to bring the Ravens to within a score in third quarter, but he was far from the 26-car pile-up we witnessed in New Jersey last week. It helps that Flacco missed on a few deep attempts in Rogers direction, but the Richmond product was better this week.

—Another EJ note: he gave the America’s Funniest Home Videos people a great look with his near red zone fumble with mere minutes to go in the contest. On the positive side, it was hilarious.

—Stevie Johnson pulled an Ed Dickson on his interception. To be fair, it’s really difficult to catch a ball thrown right at you. Johnson was poor again this week. I’m not trying to dog on a decent guy having a rough go of an early season, but he’s got a lot of convincing ahead of him when it comes to being a No. 1 receiver.

I know he’s “open all the time” but he’s lurking back to the “Lee Evans exceptional No.2, rough No.1” camp.

—Fortunately, Aaron Williams recorded his second pick of the game just moments later on an underthrown Flacco pass to the right corner of the end zone. Williams had a strong game for the Bills and could’ve had three interceptions had he not injured his shoulder leaping for another underthrown ball from Flacco to Torrey Smith.

—Two curious field goal decisions highlighted the coaching portion of our game review. First the Bills faced a 4th-and-1 late in the first quarter and decided to go for it rather than attempt a pretty basic-length field goal. The Bills were penalized on the play and forced to punt rather than go up 23-7.

The Ravens returned the favor late with the ball at the 5 yard line and all the momentum. Trailing 23-17 with just over four minutes to play, John Harbaugh elected to kick a field goal rather than try for the lead. It’s certainly orthodox to kick there, but it felt like the Ravens were knocking on a suspect Bills secondary’s door pretty loudly.

—How about a hand for that struggling secondary’s rebound today? Even Brandon Burton got into the act with a nice fourth-quarter pass defense on Torrey Smith.

Stat-line I liked:
Bills running backs, 42 carries, 175 yards, TD
— Made even more remarkable by Fred Jackson (16-87-1) and CJ Spiller leaving the game at times with injuries.

Stat-line I didn’t like:
Flacco, 5 interceptions
— The 5 picks were great, don’t get me wrong, but when you intercept a guy 5 times and barely win, well…

Game ball:
Woods
— He’s so close to being a star already.

Next week:
Thursday night in Cleveland for what hopefully won’t be a mistake by the lake. Great Lakes battle between two 2-2 teams? Who would’ve called that back in August? Call me nuts but I like the Bills here, 29-27.

Lastly:
The Bills are 2-2 with a rookie quarterback and first-year head coach. Not too shabby, fans.

TAGGED: baltimore ravens, buffalo bills, ej manuel, football, immediate reactions, kiko alonso, nick mendola, robert woods

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