We’ve been running a pair of series at Buffalo Sports Daily, highlighting the five biggest bright spots… and dark clouds on the 2011 Buffalo Bills season. We kicked off the dark cloud portion with the Bills reality check in the Whiteout game, moved on with the poor decision of banking on Shawne Merriman and our last stop was with a faltering Ryan Fitzpatrick. Today we reach the second-darkest cloud on the season—the unbelievable afternoon in New York of Stevie Johnson.
It’s regarded nearly as unanimous that Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the National Football League. It’s almost newsworthy when he gets beat for more than one pass in a game, so you can only presume how rare it is for a receiver to have eight catches for 75 yards and a touchdown against Mr. Lockdown. For the love of God, that’s a half season or more worth of numbers against him in about four quarters.
So how in the world can a wide out have so much triumph while frequenting Revis Island yet at the end of the day, have it hark back to the team’s second-darkest cloud of the entire season?
That’s Stevie Johnson effect for you.
With three consecutive losses, including one to the same New York Jets team a few weeks prior, the Buffalo Bills were in the midst of having a promising season coil utterly out of control The 5-2 start that had fans assessing playoff scenarios gave way to the “here we go again” mentality following a trio of lopsided defeats.
The Jets previously shamed the Bills in their first meeting at Ralph Wilson Stadium (number five on our countdown, by the way) and appeared primed to repeat the thumping, this time on their own turf. However, someone forgot to give Johnson the memo that the Bills were toast and there’s no success allowed against Revis.
Matched up almost exclusively against Revis, Johnson was targeted seven times in the first half by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’d go into the locker room with five catches for 44 yards and a score.
On Buffalo’s second possession Johnson caught passes for eight and 15 yards on a drive culminated with a touchdown pass to David Nelson.
With time winding down in the first half, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez threw an ill-advised pass from his own end zone over the middle of the field intended for Santonio Holmes. The errant throw was intercepted by cornerback Drayton Florence as the Bills took over at the New York 20.
With 3:31 on the clock and Buffalo taking over in the red zone, it took Fitzpatrick just three plays to hook up with Johnson for a score. On first and goal from the Jets’ five, Johnson broke free on the right side and hauled the pass in for a touchdown, giving the Bills a surprising 14-7 lead and a whole lot of momentum.
Of course, as we’ve learned with the Bills through this past decade and Johnson over the past two seasons, few things ever goes as expected. What began as a fun touchdown celebration dance with Johnson grooving in the end zone quickly turned ugly.
After spending a few seconds getting his dance…. or as Johnson calls it his “swag” on, he depicted shooting himself in the leg ala Jets receiver Plaxico Burress. To make matters worse Johnson immediately portrayed a flying Jet before crashing to the ground.
Thought out or not, he did this in New York. Really, Stevie?
Johnson was rightfully flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. On the ensuing kickoff Dave Rayner, attempting make up for the lost yardage with a low kick, booted the ball too low. It went right into the arms of Emanuel Cook, who fell on the ball at the Buffalo 36-yard line.
While Rayner could’ve made a better kick following the penalty, Johnson’s penalty essentially cost his team potentially 46 yards in precious field position in the final 2:06 of the half.
Naturally, four plays later Sanchez threw a touchdown to Burress (fittingly) and the Jets were suddenly tied with Buffalo going into the locker room.
The Bills would go on to lose the game. Needless to say, the bonehead festivities by Johnson didn’t even end up being his largest gaffe of the game.
Buffalo battled throughout the second half but found themselves down, 28-24 late in the fourth after Sanchez found Holmes with a 16-yard touchdown pass with just 1:06 left to play.
With one final chance, the Bills took over on their own 27 with 54 seconds left. Fitzpatrick hit Nelson for 18 yards and Scott Chandler for 11 more to quickly move the ball to the New York 44.
Then, on second and 13 from the Jets 47 and 35 seconds remaining, Fitzpatrick dropped back and found a streaking Johnson down the middle of the field after beating a double team. Fitzpatrick floated a beautiful pass that went directly in—and out of the hands of Johnson in perfect stride.
You’ve got to be kidding.
Just as Johnson did in 2010 against Pittsburgh in overtime that cost his team a win, he dropped another pass that hit him splendidly in both hands.
One could argue…. and may be right there’s no guarantee Johnson would’ve scored even had he caught the ball (judge for yourself in this video)
However, at the absolute worst he gives the Bills a first down inside the Jets 15-yard line with at least 25 seconds left and a timeout.
As things turned out, Fitzpatrick got the Bills down to the New York 24 but ran out of downs to pull off the upset.
Had Johnson made the easy catch, the Bills probably win. Had Johnson not took his second quarter celebration too far, maybe the Jets go into the locker room at the half with seven fewer points.
This isn’t to say Johnson’s season overall was a dark cloud, in fact it’s quite the opposite. He became the first wide receiver in franchise history to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons— a feat pretty impressive considering Andre Reed, James Lofton, Eric Moulds or Lee Evans never did it. That counts for a lot…an awful lot. Johnson is a talented player on a team that flat-out lacks the talent required to legitimately contend for a championship.
Bottom line, however, is Johnson blew this game.
You can debate the merits of exactly how much Johnson directly cost his team a win at New York from now until eternity. What’s not debatable is Johnson’s brainless end zone antics and late fourth quarter drop adds up to one of the biggest dark clouds of the season— and like it or not a major reason Buffalo’s front office is ultra- timid to give the pending free agent a monster payday most around the league feel he deserves.