Sammy Watkins showed what can happen when he’s the focal point of an offense Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills’ electrifying rookie receiver was targeted 14 times by quarterback Kyle Orton – more than double any of his teammates – and caught nine of those passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings.
The second of those scores came with just a second left, tying the game and setting the Bills up for a 17-16 victory when Dan Carpenter made the extra point.
“It was one of the best moments I’ve had in the NFL,” said Watkins, who still has only a seven-game sample to choose from. “We made the play. We made it happen at the end of the game.”
For the season, Watkins has 35 catches for 433 yards and four touchdowns. He leads all rookies in receptions, and his yardage and touchdown totals rank second to Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin (34 catches, 477 yards, five touchdowns).
“I get a lot of questions during the week of where he is and everything,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “We’re just progressing with him and we’ll keep going. The more that we can get stuff to him, we trust he can get open. He has excellent hands, he can run after the catch and he can make plays. It’s something that every week we’re looking at.”
Of Watkins’ 35 catches, 27 have resulted in first downs. That percentage of 77.1 is the highest in the NFL among players with at least 20 first downs. Watkins has also made 11 catches on third down, a total that’s fourth among players in the AFC, and just three behind leader Eddie Royal of San Diego.
He’s nominated for the league’s Pepsi Rookie of the Week award (fans can vote at nfl.com/rookies) – the third time that’s happened this year (he won in Week Two and lost to San Diego running back Branden Oliver in Week Five).
“I’ve got to come out and make plays,” Watkins said after the win over Minnesota, admitting he sometimes feels the pressure that comes with being drafted fourth overall. “I’ve got be dominant early.”
That wasn’t the case in Week Six against New England, when he wasn’t targeted at all in the first half and finished the game with just two catches. Afterward, he wasn’t shy about saying he felt he was open at times.
“I think he’s just a competitor, he wants to help the team so much,” quarterback Kyle Orton said. “That’s the deal with wide receivers. I think some of the stuff gets overblown that he wants the ball and wants to help the team. That’s the way wide receivers help the football team is to make a bunch of catches and get a bunch of yards. I don’t think he needs to put too much on his plate. If he keeps on getting open, we’ll keep on getting him the ball.”
Of course, the Bills will also need their other receivers to step up so that teams don’t just totally focus on shutting down Watkins. That happened Sunday, as Orton completed passes to nine different receivers.
“We’ve got to be able to spread it out all over the place,” Marrone said. “It’s not as easy as people think. Everyone’s like, ‘Hey, you’ve got get him the ball. Get him the ball.’ There’s no doubt we’ve got to keep devising ways to do that, but what helps us get him the ball is when there’s somebody else out there or multiple people out there that they’ve got to be concerned about.”
That was the case on the final drive against the Vikings. While Watkins had the touchdown, he wasn’t the only hero.
“We’ve got Scott Chandler making the big catch,” Watkins said. “We’ve got Chris Hogan making a big catch and then you’ve got myself making the last catch to win the game.
“It feels great still, but I’ve got to put that behind me. We’ve got to focus on the New York Jets. It’s a great feeling to get a big win on that stage. We played great on offense, but we’ve got to get better.”
. . .
The Bills added depth to their backfield Tuesday by signing former Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner.
To make room for him on the 53-man roster, the team placed running back C.J. Spiller on the injured reserve/designated to return list.
Tanner entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with his hometown Dallas Cowboys. The 26-year-old played three seasons with the Cowboys, running for 149 yards and two touchdowns on 56 carries. The 5-foot-10, 208-pounder played at Middle Tennessee State.
Tanner will provide the Bills some insurance behind Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown while fellow running back Fred Jackson is out with a groin injury.
Spiller had surgery Monday to repair a broken collarbone. By going on short-term IR, he must sit out at least eight weeks, meaning the earliest he could return to the field is Week 16.