Another close Bills loss, another career day for Steve Johnson.
The third-year receiver from Kentucky snagged a career-high 11 passes in Sunday's 22-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in Toronto. His 145 yards are only topped by his 158-yard effort two weeks ago at Baltimore as a career high.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said he is extremely comfortable throwing the ball to Johnson in any situation.
"He's a guy that's so reliable – a guy that understands the game, understands how to get open – and I trust him with my life, basically," Fitzpatrick said. "I know where he's going to be, and he's a guy that makes plays."
After recording just one reception for eight yards in the first half, Johnson exploded in the second half.
Johnson accounted for the Bills' longest play of the day, a 45-yard catch and run to the Chicago four-yard line late in the third quarter. Fred Jackson scored on the next play to bring Buffalo within one, 14-13.
On the play, Fitzpatrick found Johnson across the middle just shy of the Bears' 30 before the receiver fought his way through traffic until Chicago's Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings pulled him down from behind.
Johnson said he was simply trying to make a play for the team, and found a gap in Chicago's zone defense.
"I found a hole – we (were) talking about it all day," Johnson said. "Fitz knew that, and I knew that also; so I just found a hole and ended up trying to get to that end zone."
Coach Chan Gailey said favorable coverage, which Johnson hadn't had prior to that play, helped set up the big gain.
"(Earlier) we had called some of the same plays, and the coverages went against him," Gailey said. "(Later) we were able to hit some coverages. The one really long play was just a great play by Fitz to hit him in the middle. (David Nelson) did a good job of clearing it out, and we were able to hit it right in behind there."
Early in the fourth quarter, a six-yard catch by Johnson put the Bills at the Chicago one-yard line, setting up Corey McIntyre's touchdown plunge on the next play to put Buffalo ahead 19-14.
Later in the quarter, still holding a five-point edge, Fitzpatrick and the Bills tried to inch closer to sealing the victory with a deep sideline pass to Johnson. Jennings intercepted Fitzpatrick's underthrown ball and returned it in to Bills territory, setting up the eventual-game-winning touchdown.
Fitzpatrick said the mistake was on him, as Johnson ran the route perfectly.
"Stevie … kind of faked the short route and beat his guy," Fitzpatrick said. "I used everything I had to look that corner down because they're a team (whose) corners are looking at the quarterback's eyes. In doing that, (I) wasn't sure where the safety was … and I tried to throw him a line-drive shot. Obviously, it was a little bit short and that was the difference in the game."
Even though the play was a run-pass option for Fitzpatrick, Gailey defended the decision to remain aggressive through the air while leading.
"We'd been setting it up the whole ball game. (Chicago had) been biting and biting, and coming closer," Gailey said. I wasn't going to get conservative there. I have guys that worked too hard. We had the chance to hit the big play; they came down with the safety, like we hoped they'd do, we just didn't make the play."
Johnson said it's unfair to point to that play as the sole reason the Bills lost.
"We've still got to play through that," he said. "It's a game of plays out there. It doesn't just go on one play. If it happens, it happens. We've got to get back out there and make more plays."
Johnson did his best to try and bring the Bills back, converting a 3rd and 11 with 2:41 remaining on a 14-yard reception. But Fitzpatrick threw four straight incompletions, turning the ball over to Chicago on downs.
The Bills had one last chance to rally in the final minute. Two plays after a 16-yard reception by Johnson, Chicago's Chris Harris picked off a deflected pass to seal the victory for the Bears.
Johnson didn't find the end zone Sunday – failing to become the first player in franchise history to catch a touchdown in six straight games – but said he's much more concerned with the team's effort than individual success.
"I'll lose a million games with these guys because there's no quit in this team – no quit at all," Johnson said. "We're going to be something to work with in the future, but we've just got to get it going for the rest of this season … go back to practice and see what happens (when we) get back at it on Sundays."
Win or lose Johnson's production right now has most convinced his future is a bright one.