ORCHARD PARK - For a good portion of the second half Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo Bills' quarterback E.J. Manuel looked like the rookie that he is.
Then, with 1:38 left in the fourth quarter and the Bills down 23-17 to the Carolina Panthers, Manuel started looking like Bills' legendary quarterback Jim Kelly, as he led Buffalo on an 80-yard, 9-play drive that culminated in his game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson.
"We knew the situation," Manuel said. "I didn't feel nervous or anything like that. We've practiced it time and time again and I've been in too many situations (like this) before, not just in the NFL or in practice, but also in college. We've won games like that before and you've just got to go out there and operate the offense."
Manuel's biggest play on the drive, other than the touchdown pass to Johnson, was his 9-yard scramble down the Bills' sideline to the Panthers' 2-yard line, where he was pushed out of bounds by Captain Munnerlyn and Luke Kuechly.
Had he not gotten out of bounds, the six seconds remaining on the clock would have ticked off and the Bills would have suffered yet another devastating loss.
"I was thinking touchdown was in my mind," Manuel said. "It was definitely in my head, but I knew I had to be smart and get out of bounds."
It wasn't all good for Manuel Sunday afternoon, however. After helping the Bills score 11 points on their first two possessions of the second half, Manuel lost a fumble at the Buffalo 16-yard line late in the third quarter, then had a pass intercepted by Kuechly at the Bills' 26-yard line.
"Those are the mistakes, as I said early on, that we'll see," Bills' head coach Doug Marrone said. "That happens, but the turnovers are the one thing that we don't accept and he understands that. He's in a good place mentally knowing that he has a long way to go."
The rookie in him was starting to show in a big way, but when it mattered most, Manuel was able to show why the Bills drafted him with the 16th pick in last April's draft.
"We don't want to be a shoulda-woulda-coulda type team," Manuel said. "We didn't want this game to be as close as it was, but we won the game and that's all that matters at the end of the day."
And at the end of the day, Manuel finished 27 of 39 for 296 yards, a touchdown and an interception, giving his dad, who was in the crowd Sunday, a lasting memory on his birthday.
"My dad has been to all my games since I was six years old," Manuel said. "So nothing's changed and to see his face up there before the game was awesome. Like I said, to have him here to see this opportunity and this situation was great."