ORCHARD PARK - If there were any remaining questions about E.J. Manuel's arm strength, they were answered Sunday afternoon during the Buffalo Bills (4-7) 37-14 win over the New York Jets (5-5).
Throwing against a relentless wind, the rookie quarterback connected on long touchdown passes to T.J. Graham in the second quarter and fellow rookie Marquise Goodwin in the third quarter to help the Bills to their fourth win of the season and first since beating the Miami Dolphins, 23-21, on Oct. 20.
"We just trusted our receivers," Manuel said. "T.J. and Marquise both did a huge job, a great job stepping up for us this week with (Robert Woods) and Stevie (Johnson) being injured. So both guys, we're very thankful that they came out and they were focused. They were ready to go. They knew that the ball was coming to them and made great plays for us."
Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd celebrates an interception with teammate Kyle Williams during the second half of their team’s game against the New York Jets on Sunday, in Orchard Park.
The touchdown to Graham, which gave the Bills a 10-0 lead with 4:05 left in the first half, wasn't nearly as pretty as the deep ball he threw to Goodwin late in the third quarter.
"The first (touchdown pass), I can't really say that was great, it got hung up there (in the wind)," Bills' head coach Doug Marrone said. "But you saw the ball could get hung up there a lot."
Graham was able to make an adjustment on the ball inside the 5-yard line and took it the rest of the way for the score while Manuel hit Goodwin perfectly in stride for a 43-yard touchdown that helped put the Bills up 27-7 with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter.
"I have the easiest job on the field, just run fast down the field," Goodwin said. "The line there protecting (Manuel), he takes the correct drop and the running backs and tight ends are protecting. E.J. just throws the ball. He throws a perfect ball and I just run under it. I have the easiest job. I give all the credit to those guys."
"We have a very good receivers' room," Graham added. "(Sunday) was just a day for me and Marquise to step up and show what we can do. And we have four good receivers that can go up and get it any time."
Heading into the game, Manuel and the Bills knew they were going to be without Johnson and Woods, the team's two best receivers. But that didn't stop Manuel from airing it out as he finished 20 of 28 for 245 yards and two touchdowns.
"It was great," Manuel said of the win. "It was a huge momentum swing for us. Obviously it was a team victory for us (Sunday)."
Manuel also finished with a 121.9 rating, his highest since he registered a 105.5 rating in the Bills' season-opening loss to the New England Patriots.
"Just playing more confident," Manuel said of what the difference was in his performance Sunday compared to last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "Knowing where I'm going with the ball and just letting it rip. That's it."
On defense, the Bills weren't afraid to let it rip when it came to applying pressure to Geno Smith, the Jets' rookie quarterback.
"We usually have a pretty good mix of pressure, of simulated pressure, of straight rush," Bills' defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who finished with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble, said. "We have a pretty good mix of that all the time. (Sunday) really wasn't any different with any of our calls."
What was different was the efficiency with which the Bills' defense played as they allowed the Jets 267 yards on 56 plays, held them to 2 of 11 on third-down conversions, sacked Smith four times and intercepted him three times.
Two of the interceptions were by Jairus Byrd, who added a sack, as well, and the other by Da'Norris Searcy.
"I just think, it's hard to explain," Byrd said when asked to explain having multiple interceptions in a game. "It's just a feel. You just go out there, you study, you prepare. Coaches do a great job of getting us in position to make plays and you just go out there and make plays. That's really what it is, just getting a feel back for the game."
Searcy's interception provided the death-nail for the Bills as he returned it 32 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bills a 34-7 lead with 1:14 left in the third quarter.
"I believe it was big," Searcy said of his touchdown. "(The Jets) came out and had a little momentum going after they scored. When we completed the pass out there to Marquise [Goodwin], the momentum shifted to our side and then the big turnover by the defense, it just kept on shifting and they never regained it back. So, that was good."
For Searcy, it was his second touchdown of the season.
"I saw the type of formation they were in and once [Santonio] Holmes motioned out, I thought they might be trying to run a quick jailbreak screen," Searcy noted of the play. "So when he did the hard play fake, I just drifted out and he threw it right to me."
At 4-7, the likelihood of the Bills making the playoffs still seems remote. But with a bye week to get some players healthy and their next three games coming against the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars - a trio that has combined to go 5-25 on the season - the Bills may just have some meaningful games in December ahead of them. And that's something that has been a long time coming.
"Coach always says we're this close to being good," Searcy said. "And I think we went out there (Sunday) and proved how good we can be."