It's been difficult to find positives about the Bills during their 0-5 start, but wide receiver Steve Johnson has quietly become a key figure in the team's offense.
After hauling in two touchdowns from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, his third and fourth of the season, in Sunday's 36-26 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the former seventh-round draft choice doubled his previous career high of two touchdowns in a season.
He finished the game with five receptions for 75 yards, both career bests.
Despite having the best game of his three-year career statistically, Johnson said the loss makes it meaningless.
"Scoring a touchdown is great," Johnson said, "but it doesn't mean too much when you're scoring and you're losing."
Johnson now leads the team in receptions (17) and touchdowns (four), and is second to Roscoe Parrish with 214 receiving yards, but said he doesn't feel he is any more integral to the offense than anyone else.
"We're all big pieces to this offense," he said. "This is what we're supposed to do, so I don't feel like it's on me to become a bigger person (than anyone else). They have me here for a reason, just like they have everyone else on this team. That's our job, to make plays."
The third-year receiver from Kentucky fought off Jacksonville's former All-Pro cornerback Rashean Mathis for a five-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone with 6:56 left in the third quarter. Rian Lindell's subsequent extra point tied the score at 20.
After dropping a pass on the previous play, Johnson credited Fitzpatrick for throwing to him again and making a good throw to his outside shoulder.
"If it was high (there) was no way I would have gotten it because (Mathis) was holding my arm, but Fitz put it there and it just stuck to me," Johnson said. "(Fitzpatrick) has the faith in us, so we've got to make those plays for him. There's not going to be second chances all the time; I just thank Fitz for even coming back to me on that one. That was all him."
Johnson's second touchdown, a seven-yard reception with 1:34 remaining, accounted for the final points of the game, as the Bills failed on the ensuing two-point conversion and could not recover a subsequent onside kick.
His four touchdowns this season have all come since Fitzpatrick took over the starting quarterback job from Trent Edwards two weeks ago at New England.
Johnson said he has established good rapport with Fitzpatrick after working extensively with him during the last two preseasons and in practice when both were second-stringers previously.
"We've always been able to connect," Johnson said. "I know what he's doing, he knows what (I'm) doing. We've just got to get everybody on the same page."
Opposite Johnson, Lee Evans also had his best game of the year statistically on Sunday, recording five catches for 87 yards and a 45-yard touchdown.
Johnson said part of his own emergence is due to opposing defenses paying extra attention to Evans.
"When you're playing with a guy like Lee Evans, it makes it easier for the opposite receiver (and) for all the receivers," Johnson said. "At the same time, we all have to do our part. From Lee doing his part to Roscoe, me, Dave (Nelson) – we all have to do our part."
The Bills committed three penalties in the red zone Sunday, forcing them to settle for two short field goals by Lindell (22 and 29 yards).
Considering the Bills managed just 14 points in a loss to the New York Jets last week, Johnson said the Bills showed offensive progress, but need to overcome their own mistakes in order to win.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," Johnson said. "We scored 26 points, but it should have been more than that. The score was 13-6 (us), and it felt like we should've had 21 or 24. It's not like (Jacksonville) stopped us, we stopped ourselves."
Johnson added this week's bye will allow the team more time to put an extra focus on improving in the red zone.
"We get down … near the goal line, that should be money every time," Johnson said. "We've got too many good receivers and running backs to be cashing in three points every single time. That's something we've got to get back to when we get in practice and just attack that."