EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In the box score, Sammy Watkins and Nigel Bradham performed impeccably for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Watkins caught three passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. Bradham made a game-high 11 tackles with a forced fumble, a quarterback hit and pass breakup.
Watkins and Bradham also made bone-headed mistakes that cost the Bills points.
Sunday was a rare occasion over the past 14 years when the Bills could afford such blunders. They beat the hapless New York Jets, 43-23, at the Meadowlands.
“Let’s make sure I communicate this,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “There’s one thing I want everyone to understand: When you’re winning … and there’s a lot of things you can get fixed from a field standpoint and schematics and everything, there’s also a point of understanding ‘team first’ before anything else.
“You’ve got to learn this stuff and do it the right way all the time, not just sometimes.”
Bradham committed three personal fouls and a false start for 26 penalty yards.
A taunting call after a first-quarter Stephon Gilmore interception moved the ball from the Jets’ 33-yard line to their 48. A three-and-out series forced the Bills to punt rather than kick a field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Marrone said he couldn’t repeat in public what he told Bradham on the sideline after the taunting penalty.
“That cost us three points,” Marrone said. “I keep saying the same thing: We’re not good enough to give up three points.”
Five plays later on the punt, Bradham committed his false start. His roughing-the-passer (second quarter) and facemask (fourth quarter) penalties happened inside Buffalo’s 10-yard line to set up point-blank touchdowns.
“We’re playing our butts off, and we don’t have time for stuff like that,” Marrone said. “Those are the things we have to work on, winning and growing up.”
Watkins was tackled from behind while prematurely celebrating what should have been an 89-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Instead, defensive back Saalim Hakim caught the prized first-round draft choice and toppled him at the 5-yard line.
“I thought I was by myself,” Watkins said. “The guy basically finished the play and ran me down. I got caught.”
Bills fullback Frank Summers scored on a 2-yard run two plays later to give the Bills a 21-7 lead.
“It was a relief,” Watkins said. “We scored off that drive, and I would’ve been devastated if we wouldn’t have scored. It would have been a totally different game.”
Marrone pulled Watkins aside to deliver a sobering message.
“There were a lot of people that were upset,” Marrone said. “We weren’t hurt by it because we were able to come back and score, and I really don’t expect a guy like Sammy to do that ever again.”
Watkins didn’t get tracked down when he scored on a 61-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.
“Luckily, it didn’t hurt us. Luckily, it didn’t bite us,” Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said of Watkins’ early gaffe. “We were still able to make plays and win the football game, but I doubt he’ll do that again.
“I think we all expect him to play for a long, long time. Maybe that’s what he needed for his career going forward.”
Watkins became the first rookie in club history with consecutive 100-yard receiving games and the first Bills receiver of any vintage to do it since Lee Evans in 2007.
Watkins became the third Bills rookie or first-year receiver with five touchdowns in a season. Lee Evans set the record with nine in 2004. Elbert Dubenion had seven in 1960.
“Sammy’s got a great chance to be a top-notch player in this league,” Bills quarterback Kyle Orton said. “He’s obviously off to a great start. All these learning experiences will help him in the long run.”
Orton posted a 142.8 passer rating, the highest of his decade-long career.
Had Watkins finished his long gain, Orton would have set a personal record with five touchdown passes.
Orton completed 10 of his 17 throws for 238 yards and tossed four touchdowns for only the second time as a pro and more than two touchdowns for only the sixth time.
Jets receiver T.J. Graham had a horrible game against the team that drafted him.
Graham had zero receptions, was called for two penalties and lay face down in the end zone for a foiled trick kickoff return in the third quarter.
Percy Harvin was supposed to throw the ball across the field after Graham popped up, but the Bills had it covered and tackled Harvin at the 3-yard line.
“The defense sniffed it out pretty well,” Harvin said.
Bills safety Aaron Williams didn’t start, but he dressed despite re-aggravating a neck injury late in last week’s victory over the Minnesota Vikings. He was listed as questionable on the final injury report.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin missed his second straight game with a bad hamstring. His availability was considered doubtful.
Although the Bills’ offensive line has been struggling, second-round draft choice Cyrus Kouandjio was a healthy scratch again. The Alabama tackle has been practicing at guard, but has yet to make his NFL debut.