JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel's first season in the NFL has been an education. The rookie from Florida State aced his latest test to boost the reeling Buffalo Bills.
Manuel, who entered Sunday's game at Jacksonville with the NFL's lowest quarterback rating, threw two touchdowns and rushed for another to help the Bills beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 and snap Buffalo's five-game losing streak.
Between injuries and inconsistency, Manuel -- who was coming off a four-interception game a week ago at Tampa Bay and missed four games with an ailing knee early in the year -- has endured a rough rookie campaign. But Sunday was one the brighter days of his young career.
Manuel helped lead Buffalo out of an early 10-3 hole to score 17 unanswered points and take a 20-10 halftime lead. The Bills' first-round draft pick a year ago finished 17-of-24 passing for 193 yards and also rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries, including an 8-yard touchdown run just before halftime that helped Buffalo regain a lead it would never relinquish.
"He learns from snap-to-snap," first-year Bills coach Doug Marrone said of the win, which prevented the Bills (5-9) from reaching 10 losses for the fifth straight season and securing last place in the AFC East for the sixth consecutive year. "You're seeing a quarterback that's getting better and better."
Jacksonville (4-10), meanwhile, failed to win four in a row for the first time since 2007. The Jaguars were 4-1 since their bye week and the hottest team in the AFC, but the absence of several key starters Sunday -- including leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring), top wideout Cecil Shorts III (groin) and shutdown safety Johnathan Cyprien (thigh) -- was noticeable.
Jacksonville did get 109 unexpected yards from backup Jordan Todman, the best rushing performance by a Jaguars' running back this season.
"It meant a lot to get my first career start," Todman said. "I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. (Maurice) was helping me all game, and it was great to be able to pick his brain. It really helped. He's been a great friend and mentor on and off the field."
The best rushing performance Sunday, however, belonged to Buffalo's tandem of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
Jackson and Spiller were held to 34 combined rushing yards last week at Tampa Bay, but they shined against Jacksonville. Jackson led the Bills with 17 carries for 80 yards, while Spiller tallied 67 yards on 13 totes.
Bills rookie wideout Robert Woods, who caught a first-half, 7-yard TD pass from Manuel that tied the game at 10-10, notched a team-high 82 yards receiving on five catches. Leading wideout Stevie Johnson had a quiet day -- just one catch for four yards -- but he decided to play despite the death of his mother Saturday.
Quarterback Chad Henne, who had played well during the Jaguars' win streak, was up-and-down Sunday. Henne was 21-for-36 passing for 237 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw two picks. He found rookie wideout Ace Sanders in the first half for a 12-yard score -- Sanders' first touchdown of his career -- and Josh Scobee booted a 42-yard field goal in the first half. Scobee later tied his career-long with a 55-yarder in the third quarter to cut the Bills' lead to 20-13.
Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis, who led the team with 54 yards on five catches Sunday, tied the game at 20-20 early in the fourth quarter on a 13-yarder from Henne and rumbled into the end zone.
"We had all the momentum," Henne said, "but we just couldn't keep it."
What the Bills said
"C.J. Spiller came up to me (before the game) and said, 'Let's be special today.' And with him being one of the leaders on offense, I think that was huge for us. It helped clinch the game for us." -- Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, on Sunday's win, his first on the road this season after going 0-5 in five games away from Buffalo. Manuel passed for 193 yards, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.
What the Jaguars said
"I saw (wide receiver) Mike Brown being held. We'll see it on tape, but (I thought) it was (pass interference). You have to throw (the pass) or they're not going to see (the pass interference) and who the receiver is. If you don't throw it, then they don't call it. My job is to throw where he's supposed to be, and obviously (the refs) didn't see it." -- QB Chad Henne, on the play that resulted in his second interception of the game. It occurred on third-and-goal from the Buffalo 5-yard line with a little more than three minutes remaining in the game and Jacksonville trailing 27-20.
What we learned about the Bills
1. Buffalo won Sunday for Stevie Johnson. The Bills' top wideout played one day after his mother died. He tallied just a season-low one catch for 4 yards and had two drops.
After consecutive 1,000-yard receiving years, Johnson saw a big dip in production this year. He has just 52 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns, and he hasn't lived up to the five-year, $36.2 million contract he signed after 2011. Johnson, however, is excused for his off day Sunday, considering his mind was clearly elsewhere.
After the game, Johnson's teammates and head coach rallied around him and showed their support for their grieving star.
"I was made aware of it (Saturday) and talked to Stevie," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "My thoughts with Stevie are that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. We are going to take care of you. It's a tough situation."
2. Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso is making a push for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Alonso, the NFL's second-leading tackler, was questionable coming into Sunday's game due to a knee injury, be he not only played, he finished second on the team with six tackles -- all of them solo.
Alonso, a second-round pick out of Oregon who came into the game with 131 tackles (trailing only Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who had 139), showed no signs of the injury he suffered in Friday's practice, playing nearly every snap.
"That's what being a pro is," Bills coach Doug Marrone said.
What we learned about the Jaguars
1. Former first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert's days in Jacksonville may be numbered. As the regular season winds down, speculation is rampant that one-time franchise, who has not played since injuring his hamstring during the first week of October, is on his way out of Jacksonville.
The Jags might be more patient with Gabbert, who is 5-22 as a starter in three seasons, if not for the solid play by backup Chad Henne, who led Jacksonville to a 4-2 record since the bye week.
Gabbert told the Florida Times-Union last week, "I don't like the position I'm in. But at the same time, I'm going to go out and bust my tail. I owe that to my team and owe that to myself. I'm not worried about what's going on after the year. It's such a week-to-week league, I have to be ready to play."
2. Jaguars running backs Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson are headed in opposite directions.
Todman, making his first career start during his third season out of UConn, rushed for a season- and career-high 109 yards Sunday, marking the best rushing performance by a Jags running back all season. Todman was afforded the start after leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew was held out due to a hamstring injury, and the 183rd pick in the 2011 draft made the most of it.
Meanwhile, Robinson endured another disappointing outing in his rookie season. Robinson, the Jaguars' fifth-round pick in this year's draft, was expected to see plenty of action alongside Todman, but on his second carry of the game, Robinson fumbled as he dived for the end zone for what appeared to be an easy score. Robinson never touched the ball again.
"When you get that close to the end zone, it's a natural reaction to reach out and (try to) score," coach Gus Bradley said. "(But) we don't do that. We keep it high and tight throughout. I challenged him on it when he came off the field,.
"(As for Todman), I was really pleased. I think he really stepped it up."