The Buffalo Bills showed confidence in cornerback Kevin Johnson to start Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.
With Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White sitting out, the Bills had Johnson – not Levi Wallace – shadow the Jets’ most dangerous receiver all over the field in the first quarter.
Now it seems certain the Bills will be showing more confidence in Johnson in the playoffs.
The fifth-year veteran is the prospective starter for the game against his old team, the Houston Texans, on Saturday due to an ankle injury suffered by Wallace late in the first quarter against the Jets. Wallace was in a walking boot after the game.
“It’s a blessing, for one, to play in the playoffs and then to have the opportunity to play the team where you just came from,” Johnson said after the Bills’ 13-6 loss in the regular-season finale.
“I know a lot of the guys there,” Johnson said of the Texans, “but the main focus is getting a win, and that’s all that matters.”
Johnson was a first-round draft pick of the Texans in 2015. But he started only 18 games for Houston over the next four seasons due to a string of injuries. That’s why the Texans let him leave in free agency in March. Johnson said his focus is his new team, not his old one, in the coming week.
“It’s a playoff game,” Johnson said. “The goal is to win the game. That’s the only thing that matters. It’s not about me. I’ll be focused for the game.”
Wallace has started all season at cornerback opposite White. However, Wallace and Johnson have split time, almost 50-50, since the Week 11 win at Miami. Over the six-game stretch before Sunday, Wallace had averaged 37 snaps a game, while Johnson averaged 29 snaps. Johnson has yet to give up a touchdown catch this season.
Johnson’s best play Sunday was a pass breakup of a throw for Anderson along the left sideline on the Jets’ second drive. As soon as Wallace was injured a few minutes later, the Bills removed Johnson from the game to avoid exposing him to injury. Johnson went in for a couple of snaps in the second half when Siran Neal was briefly sidelined before coming out again.
Here were some other noteworthy plays in what was a forgettable day at New Era Field:
1. Duke goes long.
The much-anticipated return of first-year receiver Duke Williams to the lineup was eventful. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder had six catches for 108 yards. But he also had two drops.
“I let two balls get away from me,” Williams said. “I dropped two balls, so that’s on my mind right now. And we lost. I wish we would have got the victory. But we’re in the playoffs. I did my part, played ball, tried to make plays when the ball came my way. And I was going to get dirty in the blocking game, and I did that, too.”
Williams, who had been inactive for the last eight games, beat cornerback Arthur Maulet down the right sideline for a 41-yard pass to set up the Bills’ last field goal. Matt Barkley made a nifty set-up in the pocket to buy time and get the pass off.
“It was a double move,” Williams said. “Matt, luckily he stepped up in the pocket and gave me time to run it and delivered a great ball. I just focused on concentrating on catching it because the play before I had dropped one.”
2. Bills display cornerback depth.
Second-year cornerback Siran Neal played almost the entire game. His best coverage play was a tight coverage defense of slot receiver Jamison Crowder and a sure tackle for a 4-yard gain. It forced a punt.
Once Wallace went out, Neal was forced to play outside cornerback for most of the last three quarters. He never played that spot in a game in the NFL.
Neal served as the Bills’ slot corner for the first five games of the season while Taron Johnson was out with an injury. But Neal had not played a snap in the previous 10 games.
“I played it in college, but I didn’t play any in training camp,” Neal said of outside corner. “In practice, I’d get a snap or two but not really. But I know going into every game that I’m a backup corner, so I’ve got to know everything. I prepare for it every week.”
“We just knew going into the game we were going to have to have each other’s backs, being a young back seven,” Neal said. “Plus, not even getting game-like reps, we had to go out and prove to everybody we could be the guys the team could trust.”
3. The Bills’ new two-way player.
Receiver Isaiah McKenzie got pressed into service in the fourth quarter at cornerback when Taron Johnson left the field after being spiked in the shin. The last time McKenzie played cornerback? His senior year of high school in Miami in 2013.
“I played some nickel,” McKenzie said. “If another team had a good receiver in the slot, I’d stick on him. I don’t know zone coverage. I only know man to man. But I guess they’ve seen my high school film.”
McKenzie on the instructions he got from Bills coaches: “They said, 'Man to man. You take the guy on your side, you’ll be on our bench side the whole time. No switching.' I said all right, cool. . . . I’m ready. I have no problem trying to hit somebody and make a tackle. If they need me, I’m ready.”
"I thought he was like Deion Sanders back there," cracked Williams. "They did a run play, and I said, 'Oh Lord, they’re going to Isaiah’s side.' But he set the edge and the defense got the stop, so big ups to Isaiah."
4. A bizarre call.
There were numerous head-scratching officials’ calls in the game, but none more confusing than the personal foul called on Bills safety Kurt Coleman in the second quarter. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold scrambled out of the pocket to his right, and running back Le’Veon Bell was in front of him, at the line of scrimmage. Darnold was in position to run, and Bell could have blocked for him. It did not appear Bell was more than a yard beyond the line of scrimmage when Coleman knocked him down. Darnold’s pass was intercepted by Jaquan Johnson, but the penalty wiped out the turnover.
“I have no explanation for that,” Coleman said of the call. “The quarterback’s outside of the pocket. I’ve played this game for 10 years and that’s how I’ve always played it. I don’t know. And I thought it was a very clean hit, where I hit him with my hands and kept the crown of my head out of it. If you get an explanation for why it was a penalty, let me know.”