ORCHARD PARK - When the Buffalo Bills take the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium today, there will be a number of players taking part in their first National Football League game, and none may be as important as starting quarterback EJ Manuel.
"I know this is my first NFL game," Manuel said. "But I'm not looking at it like that. I'm looking at it as the Buffalo Bills 2013 season, the first game of that. We've got to go out there, play hard and execute our offense and we know the defense will do a good job too."
Joining Manuel on offense are fellow rookie wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, who will look to compliment veteran receiver Stevie Johnson, who is coming off his third-straight 1,000-yard season.
AP?Photos, Graphic by Matt Panebianco
The Buffalo?Bills open the season today against the New England Patriots at 1 p.m. at Ralph Wilson?Stadium. Pictured from top left, going clockwise are, coach Doug Marrone, rookie quarterback EJ?Manuel, rookie receiver Marcus Goodwin, receiver Stevie Johnson and receiver Marcus Easley.
"He's been good," Johnson said of Manuel. "He's been a player ever since he stepped out on the field here, not even on the field, just in the locker room, in the film room, he's been a leader. As a rookie, I think that's a great thing."
As one can imagine, Woods is excited to get his NFL career under way.
"It'll be fun," Woods said with a wide-eyed smile. "(The New England Patriots) are a great team, they have a great coach and an offense that can put up some points. For the first challenge, with a new coach, I think we need that just to start us off right against a great team and great competition."
The Bills success this afternoon in Orchard Park will depend, in part, on how well Manuel and his receivers work together. However, Manuel missed significant time after having a minor knee procedure and Johnson missed time at the beginning of camp with a groin injury, which may have some worried that Manuel hasn't had enough time to build the type of chemistry with his receivers that he would have liked heading into his first professional game.
Manuel is not amongst those that are worried.
"I know this week in practice we've been good," Manuel said. "Stevie is a very versatile receiver and he does things that you don't expect sometimes. We hit all his routes and things he's been open on."
Manuel's main receiving threats aren't too worried about it either.
"Not at all," Johnson said. "This has been a pretty different offseason as far as training camp went, because I was injured when he was in, then he got hurt when I came back. We've been talking a lot between myself and EJ and the receivers. We've all been talking, so I think we'll be cool."
"I think we'll be where we need to be," Woods added. "He's a great quarterback and we just have to be in the right spot at the right time. The ball is going to be perfect and we just have to handle our own assignments. (Manuel's) going to do his job."
It's going to take more than just chemistry between the Bills' quarterback and wide receivers today if they plan on upending the Patriots. They will need to be in sync in all phases of the game, especially on defense.
"Everybody knows this is kind of a set-the-tone-game," Bills' defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said. "See where we're at. I look at the first five minutes of the game as a gut check, to see where we're at, what we're going to do and how we're going to do this season. Just got to chop at the wood and try to finish creating our identity as a team and as a unit."