Last season he fell 18 receiving yards short. Entering Sunday's game he needed 89 receiving yards to reach the same mark he was chasing as a rookie. And he'd have to do it against arguably the best cornerback of his generation, Darrelle Revis. The Bills most dangerous receiving weapon was apparently up to the task making good on reaching the 1,000-yard plateau. For Sammy Watkins however, the win to even the Bills record at 8-8 carried more weight.
"It was a great accomplishment," said Watkins. "The coaches and everybody knew I had to get 89 yards so I went out there with the mindset that if I got 89 or 100 yards we should be able to win the game. It was great because we won the game. I would've been very upset if I had 100-whatever yards and we lost the game. It was great because we got the win."
Buffalo's offensive coaches were aware of the yardage Watkins needed to make it his first 1,000-yard receiving season, and had him targeted from the very first offensive play from scrimmage. But the Bills most dangerous receiver did not make his first reception until the team's fourth possession at the end of the first quarter.
By halftime he had six catches for 61 yards.
"He did a great job," said Tyrod Taylor. "We weren't able to get him the ball the first game as much as I wanted to. I missed a big pass early in the first game to him. He was able to beat the coverage this week and did a good job of getting open and I was able to find him."
Down the stretch this season Taylor and Watkins have been in sync particularly on deep passes for big gainers or touchdowns. Revis and the Jets defensive staff took notice as they were determined not to give up anything downfield.
"We knew it was going to be a battle," said head coach Rex Ryan. "Revis knew it, this kid has elite speed. Revis wasn't going to get beat over the top. So we thought we had a chance to throw the ball underneath a few times and we did."
Most of his receptions were in the eight to 15-yard range, but there was one play where he caught a nine-yard pass and went across the middle in an effort to find daylight on the far side of the field. The 38-yard gain wound up being his longest in the game, and was a byproduct of some coaching advice from receivers coach Sanjay Lal, who surmised the Jets wouldn't be giving him anything cheap or deep.
"Just split the defense that was one of the things that my coach preached," Watkins said. "When you get the ball run with it. Get as many yards as you can and it'll add up. That's what I was trying to do. When I caught the ball I was trying score every time I touched it."
Watkins finished with a career-high 11 catches that went for 136 yards. Those 11 catches were the most by a Bills wideout since Stevie Johnson posted 11 against Chicago back in Nov. 2010. Now with 125 career catches, Watkins has the team record for the most receptions by a Bills wideout in his first two pro seasons.
The rapport he developed in just one season with Taylor grew by leaps and bounds over the final quarter of the season. That's why Watkins is eager to spend time with his quarterback this offseason.
"We're definitely going to get some work in," said Watkins of he and Taylor. "We had an okay year, but I want him to know me better than just practice and on the field. We need to build a relationship being that he might be here and me and him might be together for a while and just to get more chemistry on the field and off the field."
Since the bye in Week 8, only two receivers have put up more receiving yards than Watkins' 900 over the last nine games of the regular season. Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown (1,116) and Atlanta's Julio Jones (979) were the only wideouts with more yardage.
It makes one wonder if the matchup between Revis and Watkins is leaning more heavily toward the young receiver not only for next season, but beyond.
"It was a great matchup, one of those classic matchups," said Ryan. "In my opinion this young man is one of the best receivers in football and everybody will see it next year when he's healthy for 16 games. You'll see the numbers and everything else. The guy is a great football player."