Don’t count Bills receiver Robert Woods among those who were worried about EJ Manuel’s first couple of series Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I thought he was fine,” Woods said. “I didn’t say anything to him. Throughout the game he remained calm and was able to play his game.”
Manuel kept his head about him after starting the game 0 for 4 with an interception, going 17 of 20 for 193 yards and three total touchdowns the rest of the way.
He targeted Woods six times, with the rookie duo connecting on five of them for 82 yards and a touchdown in the 27-20 win. It marked a career high in receiving yardage for the Southern California product.
“The ball was there when I came out of my breaks,” Woods said. “I was able to make some plays. It’s what we practiced. We knew it was going to be there and it was.”
It was a flashback to early in the season, when Woods and Manuel first began to show a good rapport. From Weeks Two through Five, Woods finished with 15 catches for 247 yards and a touchdown.
Manuel, however, was hurt in Week Five at Cleveland, and missed the next four games. Woods suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week Nine - the week before Manuel returned - and missed the next two games.
In eight games with Manuel as his quarterback, Woods has 26 catches for 406 yards and three touchdowns. In four games without Manuel, Woods’ numbers are 10 catches for 84 yards and no touchdowns.
“He’s one of those guys who controls his body so well and he’s big enough that he runs fast,” Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said of Woods. “He’s just an all-around guy. It was fun to be able to target him and watch him have success. He was awesome.”
All five of Woods’ catches came on Buffalo touchdown drives. Only one of the five was delivered right in the numbers - the 7-yarder he scored on a hook route to pull the Bills into a 10-10 tie in the second quarter. Woods caught that pass at the 2-yard line and dove over the goal line as Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny ripped his helmet off.
“I thought Robert played well. You didn’t see accuracy by the quarterback at times, where he really put it there,” coach Doug Marrone said. “You saw Robert and some of the receivers … those guys did a nice job with their catch radius.”
All five of Woods’ catches Sunday also produced either a first down or a touchdown. His first catch of the game came on a second-and-9 play from the Buffalo 7-yard line early in the second quarter. Running toward the left sideline, Woods fully extended to make a 20-yard catch.
With the game tied, 20-20, in the fourth quarter and the Bills facing a second-and-12, Woods made an 18-yard catch that set Buffalo inside the Jacksonville red zone on the drive that ended with the game-winning points on a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Frank Summers.
“We ran it earlier in the game but there was a little bit of pressure and he couldn’t go to it,” Woods said of his fourth-quarter catch. “We came back to it. The corner bailed back, I sat in the window and the ball was there. … Just put it in the air for us and we’ll make a play for him.”
Woods has 36 catches on the season — the most by a Bills rookie since Lee Evans had 48 in 2004. With two good games, he could approach the Bills’ rookie record of 52 catches by a rookie, held by running back Joe Cribbs in 1980.
Woods’ output Sunday was crucial for an offense that got a combined one catch for 4 yards Sunday from fellow receivers Stevie Johnson, Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham. Goodwin and Graham were shut out for the third straight game, while Johnson — who played the day after finding out his mother had passed away unexpectedly - had one catch on three targets.
“I want to have an offense that it’s not, ‘these two guys have a chemistry, let’s shut him down and force him to go someplace else,’ ” Marrone said. “Marquise Goodwin might not have a catch, but he’s caused two penalties. Stevie Johnson may not have as many catches, but you can see on the film people are squeezing the hell out of Stevie and it’s opening up some things for other people. A lot of times when you look at the passing game, I look at the spacing of our routes and who people are cheating to and squeezing to and we’re going to have to be able to go someplace else with the ball.”
Marrone said Monday that Manuel suffered a sprained left knee against the Jaguars, but the injury is believed to be minor.
“He should be OK,” the coach said. “I don’t feel like it’s going to be anything. We have time.”
Manuel injured his left knee during the preseason, causing him to miss the final two exhibition games. He played the entire game Sunday, rushing eight times for 39 yards. He did not have a noticeable limp.
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (ankle) and safety Aaron Williams (ribs) likely will miss Wednesday’s practice or be limited with further evaluation throughout the week, Marrone said, while Goodwin (ankle), right guard Kraig Urbik (foot) and linebacker Kiko Alonso (knee) are expected to be fine for Sunday’s home finale against Miami.