The Buffalo Bills turned in three of their most impressive touchdown drives of the season Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and Co. went at least 70 yards on three drives that ended in touchdowns, the first time that’s happened in a single game this year. Each of those possessions lasted at least eight plays — Buffalo had only six touchdown drives of at least that many snaps and yards heading into Week 15.
Perhaps most impressive: the Bills faced only one third down during the three drives combined. Receiver T.J. Graham drew a pass interference penalty in the first quarter on a third-and-2 play to extend Buffalo’s first touchdown drive.
“Those are the things that you get excited about and at the same time you get frustrated about because you want that more and more,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “I think it shows the capability of what you can do and then it comes a matter of time. Again, it goes back to … being consistent.”
The Bills altered their approach slightly on each of the scoring drives, opting to huddle on selected plays. As a result, they used a combined 11:53 of playing time.
“It helps our defense rest up and that’s the biggest thing,” running back C.J. Spiller said. “When the defense is rested you could see what they were able to do. We try to keep those guys fresh as possible and we have to continue to do a great job with that.”
Buffalo’s offensive drive numbers were not pretty heading into Sunday’s game. According to statistics kept by Football Outsiders, the Bills ranked 29th in the NFL in both yards and points per drive, with 25.36 and 1.45, respectively, through Week 14. They also were 27th in plays per drive, with 5.36, 31st in time of possession per drive (2:06) and 30th in the website’s “Drive Success Rate,” which measures the percentage of down series that result in a first down or touchdown (excluding kneeldowns).
“I think that’s part of our maturation as an offense — especially as young guys in the skill positions — understanding the situations,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “It was huge for us to keep those drives going.”
Buffalo’s first touchdown drive covered 94 yards — the longest of the season. Manuel completed passes of 20 yards to Robert Woods and 28 yards to rookie tight end Chris Gragg to pick up more than half that yardage, but a pair of 11-yard runs — one each by Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller — gave the offense balance.
“It’s encouraging when we’re able to run the ball when you look at those drives,” Marrone said.
After the 94-yard drive by the offense tied the game, 10-10, the Bills’ defense forced a three-and-out by Jacksonville.
On the next possession, Manuel directed an eight-play, 72-yard march for a 17-10 lead. Manuel completed a 17-yard pass to Woods. The other seven plays were runs, including a gain of 19 yards by Jackson. Manuel finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw.
“Using my versatility is a huge thing — especially playing against a defense that plays Cover Two and they try to drop a lot of guys into coverage,” he said. “So when I saw an opening, I just wanted to take off.”
The Bills’ 198 rushing yards marked the fourth time this season they’ve run for at least 195 in a game.
“Those things are encouraging — knowing that they know what you’re going to do and you go ahead and do it,” Marrone said.
More good news - the Bills finished things in the red zone. Buffalo has done a good job of getting points when it gets inside the 20-yard line of the opposition, but too often those have come on field goals, not touchdowns. On 36 trips to the red zone, Buffalo has points on 34 occasions, an NFL-leading 94.4 percent of time. Sunday, the Bills were a perfect 3 for 3 on reaching the end zone after getting to Jacksonville’s 20-yard line. The Bills are 18 of 36 (50 percent) in red-zone touchdown efficiency, tied for 25th in the NFL.
“What makes you feel good is your plan goes according to plan and you’re able to go out there and execute it,” Marrone said. “That’s what’s good. That’s what keeps you going and keeps people pushing.”