Stevie Johnson had a simple message for fans watching at home after scoring on an 18-yard touchdown reception Sunday against the Patriots. After putting the Bills up 13-0 in the first quarter, he lifted his jersey to reveal ‘Happy New Year’ on his undershirt in much the same way he wrote ‘Why So Serious?’ on his undershirt in the Bills comeback win over Cincinnati last year. Though he did not draw a penalty last year, the display drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty Sunday and Johnson was benched for the rest of the game by head coach Chan Gailey.
“What we said after we had an issue earlier in the season is if anybody got a penalty that hurt our football team for any type of demonstration that he would be out that game and we’d decide about the next game,” said Gailey. “So if I say that I’m going to do it. So he was out.”
Since he did not draw a penalty last year for his ‘Why So Serious?’ undershirt in Cincinnati, he thought he’d be safe with a similar display.
“I didn’t understand why I couldn’t go out there and do it a second time, but I got the penalty and coach made his decision and I had to ride with him,” said Johnson. “Coach said if something like this happens again and I get a penalty he’s going to have to do what he did today. I don’t lose any love for him. He was true to his word and he has to be.”
At the same time Gailey wasn’t thrilled with what appears to be an inconsistent letter of the law with respect to end zone displays.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “What happens is it happened last year. He put a message on his shirt and showed his shirt and didn’t get a flag. And he does it this year and he gets flagged. Which one is it? It puts me in a bind because I made the statement and if I say it I’m going to do it. So I could not argue the gray area of that (rule). So yeah I’m disappointed. If it hurts the team, then I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
After Johnson left the game Buffalo’s offense managed another touchdown drive to go up 21-0, but lacking their big play weapon in the passing game and soon after losing
“It definitely hurt that Stevie wasn’t out there,” said
For Johnson it wasn’t his first unsportsmanlike penalty of the season. The Bills top wideout drew a flag in the second meeting with the Jets after a touchdown when he imitated New York receiver Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg, which landed the veteran receiver behind bars for having an unlicensed firearm.
Following that game Johnson said he probably was done with end zone displays, but that did not prove to be the case in Buffalo’s season finale. He said he learned his lesson then, prompting the question to be asked of him again Sunday.
“I’m learning my lessons every day,” he said. “You live and you learn. That’s what it is. In this locker room I felt like I let some people down, but I’m not embarrassed about it. All it said was Happy new Year, that’s it. I wasn’t thinking about any trouble or anything. What it ended up doing was hurting my team.”
“You hope people learn from situations,” said Gailey. “There’s not anybody that hasn’t made mistakes, but you’ve got to learn from your mistakes and everybody falls into that category, me too. I’ve said this 100 times, he’s not a bad guy. He’s not. Stevie’s a good guy, but he uses some bad judgment at times and if you do that enough and it hurts the team too much you’ve got to do something.”
Whether this latest case of poor judgment affects contract talks between the club and the soon to be free agent remains to be seen.
“I don’t know,” said Johnson. “That’s not in my hands really. It’s all on upstairs to see what they want to do and we’ll go from there. As of now I’m a Buffalo Bill.”