1. EJ is a leader.
It was noted the week before the game that QB EJ Manuel was not one of the six captains voted to the position by Bills players. But on game day against the Bears, captain or not, Manuel assumed the reins of leadership. And for the first time in his brief NFL career, his teammates talked about Manuel becoming a vocal, hyped-up, emotional leader.
The players say it started Saturday night at the team meetings in Chicago. Manuel was reported to have told his teammates he was ready to lead and eager to erase the negative vibe around the team as reported in the media.
"He demanded everyone's attention and he's just the leader of our offense," receiver Robert Woods related. "Before the game he spoke to the whole team. He just fired everyone up. Everyone is believing in him and confident in him and he just got us the win."
Manuel's vocal leadership continued in the Soldier Field locker room before the game Sunday. And as he got ready for his first NFL game, rookie wideout Sammy Watkins was surprised to see his quarterback fired up.
"That shocked everybody," Watkins told me after the game. "He started it last night he just went crazy and I loved it. He came here early today, listened to some music, that's what we need at quarterback, guys that lead, guys with passion. He was just tired of everybody down on him, and he's going to prove everybody wrong. Everybody's got to understand that he's young and he's going to get better. "
Veteran Fred Jackson understands that. And he thinks his quarterback has the right stuff to lead the offense. Jackson wasn't surprised that Manuel got vocal over the weekend.
"Not at all. Being around him, he has those qualities. It wasn't unexpected. He is the quarterback of this team. When you have a guy like that on offense he's going to play his part. That's why I think everybody in this locker room is rallying around him. He wants to get this thing turned around and he wants to be the guy that helps turn it around."
In his 11th NFL start, at age 24, Manuel took a big step forward in the leadership department on Sunday against the Bears.
2. Marrone wears his heart on his sleeve.
On the topic of leadership, NFL on Fox analyst Daryl Johnston has a unique perspective of head coach Doug Marrone's leadership style, one he shared with me Sunday a couple of hours before kickoff. Johnston, the Youngstown, NY native, was in the Fox broadcast booth next to our radio booth.
"Moose" played with Marrone for a couple of years at Syracuse. He mentioned to me how "old school" Marrone was then and is now. As for emotional leadership, Johnston said he loves the fact that Marrone "wears his heart on his sleeve." And he thinks players will respond.
The network TV talent met with select Bills players and coaches late Saturday afternoon in Chicago, as is the usual custom. And Johnston did tell me how his broadcast crew noted the differences among the three Bills coaches they talked to Saturday: Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, with his over-the-top enthusiasm, Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz, with his cool, calm laid back demeanor, and Head Coach Doug Marrone, with his Bronx born-and-bred blunt, plain-spoken honesty. Quite an entertaining contrast, according to Johnston.
3. Calm, cool, and collected.
The NFL on Fox booth was on one side of our broadcast booth, the Bills coaches were on the other. And although we're busy in both booths, I did get a chance to glance over and notice how professional and focused the Bills coaches were during crunch time late in regulation and into overtime. Senior offensive assistant Jim Hostler, tight ends coach Greg Adkins, and offensive quality control coach Jason Vrable and the rest were composed and methodical towards the end.
When Dan Carpenter's field goal sailed through the goalposts and the game ended, it was a different story. High-fives, fist-pumps, pats on the back all over the coaches' booth. It was a tremendous relief of tension and genuine elation. It was a lot of fun to observe.
4. Carpenter is also a groundskeeper.
Carpenter's game winning kick got a little bit tougher when the Bills took a five-yard delay of game penalty at the end. Instead of a 22-yard chip shot, it turned into a 27-yard kick. And Carpenter volunteered to me in the postgame locker room that the penalty was his fault.
"I don't know what happened (on the penalty)," he said, genuinely upset that the delay added extra drama to the ending. "Obviously, me bending over to pick up that piece of grass to move it out of the way apparently took too long."
The condition of the grass at Soldier Field was a concern throughout the game. It looked like linebacker Preston Brown slipped on the grass on the 12-yard Martellus Bennett touchdown catch in the first quarter. At halftime, the Chicago Parks Department grounds crew spent 12 minutes repairing divots and fixing torn up pieces of the newly sodded turf. And Carpenter had to do his own grounds keeping in overtime to ensure a clean kick.