Stevie Johnson had waited 1,020 days for the moment that came Sunday.
That’s how long it had been since the Buffalo Bills receiver’s infamous drop of a potential game-winning touchdown pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 28, 2010.
Redemption came in the form of a 2-yard touchdown catch with just 2 seconds remaining against the Carolina Panthers, giving the Bills a rousing 24-23 victory inside rocking Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“I’ve been chasing that play since Pittsburgh,” Johnson said. “I’m happy that it happened.”
Johnson finished with eight catches for 111 yards and that decisive touchdown. After the score, he went over to the stands and hugged his wife, Britney.
“I think we grew up in a week,” Johnson said. “I’m proud of this team.”
On the decisive play, Johnson was lined up in the slot to the left of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, with Chris Hogan out wide to the left. Hogan ran a drag route, and both Carolina defenders, D.J. Moore and Josh Norman, went with him.
“Seven-11. His presence was felt,” Johnson said, referring to Hogan’s nickname. “Hogan came in and it was pretty much a two-man route depending on what the defense does. And then EJ pulls the trigger on whichever one he chooses.”
Manuel narrowly got rid of the ball as Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly closed in on a blitz, lofting a perfect pass to Johnson in the left corner of the end zone. All that was left was making the catch.
There would be no repeat of what happened against the Steelers.
“I was surprised I was that wide open because listening to the defense, I thought the guy was going to jump out late or something, but he didn’t so we made the play and won.”
Johnson’s touchdown catch was the 27th of his career, which is seventh in franchise history. He now has at least one catch in 50 straight games, the fourth longest such streak in team history.
“I can’t say this was the Super Bowl. The feeling was great. I can’t lie – the feeling was great,” he said. “It was ecstatic in there, but it’s Week Two. We’ve got to shake it off and bounce back and get ready for the Jets.”
Johnson credited the Bills’ defense for the win.
“The defense showed up. This is the second week in a row where they’ve showed up. We’ve still got to catch up to them,” he said. “That’s our challenge as an offense. The special teams, they’re solid, but the offense – we could still be on another level. We’ve got to play catch-up with our defense so we can be a balanced team.”
Johnson played an integral part on the final drive even before the game-winning touchdown catch. He had two catches for 19 yards early in the drive, then drew a pass interference call on Kuechly on a third-down play from the Carolina 31-yard line with 21 seconds to play. That set up the Bills at the Carolina 11-yard line.
“Definitely,” Johnson said when asked whether he could’ve caught the ball had he not been interfered with on the play. “We made plays after that, so that was huge.”