If any Bills fans forgot just how much of an impact Sammy Watkins had on the team's offense, they were quickly reminded Sunday.
Watkins accounted for 80 of the team's 166 passing yards, and helped the Bills pull out a must-win game against the Jaguars in what turned into an offensive showcase in the second half.
It was Watkins' first game since being placed on the injured reserve with a foot injury after Week 2, and also the first time he played under new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn.
Watkins admitted that he was still trying to get rid of the butterflies early--he didn't make his first catch until Buffalo's fourth drive--but that he was also being worked into the offense.
He had catches on back-to-back plays on that drive, and it provided some much needed balance to the offense. LeSean McCoy scored on the team's next drive, and on then added another one on the first play after halftime.
But it was Watkins who got the NFL's 32nd-ranked pass offense going in the second half.
Tyrod Taylor connected with Watkins on a 62-yard play down the sideline in the third quarter. Watkins beat Jacksonville rookie corner Jalen Ramsey and set the Bills up on the Jaguars' 13-yard line. Taylor scored on a seven-yard rush three plays later to give the Bills the lead.
His teammates were impressed to see Watkins, who hasn't played in two months, beat a corner and make a play like that in crunch time.
"They're trying to stop the run, but also play the sticks because we're a running team," McCoy said. "When we hit Sammy they just played man coverage. I guess they thought with the rookie they had a guy who could match with Watkins and that's a mismatch. Sammy is the real deal."
"It was great," guard Richie Incognito added. "It was great to get that long completion down the sideline because you know it kind of felt like we were spinning our wheels and we couldn't pick up a first down. To go over the top and get that big completion, it gave the entire team some juice."
Despite the importance of that completion, Watkins' biggest contribution of the game may have been a play that won't show up in the box score.
On third-and-six with the Bills trailing by one early in the fourth quarter, Taylor threw it up for Watkins, who had single coverage with Prince Amukamara. Watkins came back for the ball and got tangled up with Amukamara. He was clearly grabbed, and the Bills moved up the field 19 yards on the pass interference call.
"I did an inside release," Watkins said. "I didn't want to do an inside release, but that's what he kind of gave me. I sprinted and he grabbed my arm. I tried to get rid of it. After he grabbed me, I tried to speed up, but I knew it was going to be a flag and I kind of acted out a little bit. But it was a great play." That play set the Bills up at the Jacksonville 25, and Taylor connected with Justin Hunter for the game's final touchdown four plays later.
"He's such a difference maker as a player and hopefully he can play a little more and more because we certainly need him and we're a different team with him," Rex Ryan said.
Watkins said after the game that Sunday was the best he felt in a long time. Even after playing his first
game in eight weeks, Watkins felt no ill effects with his foot and felt much better than he did the first two weeks of the season, where he only had 63 yards.
"I kind of got over that hump--a mental hurdle," Watkins said. "I think it was a mental thing and now I'm over it. I just have to get back to playing catch and get on the right page with Tyrod."
Even more than what Watkins was able to provide on the stat sheet, was the motivation he provided for a unit that has been beleaguered by injuries all season. Watkins has been impressed with the efforts of his teammates in his absence and doesn't want to disrupt the work of the other guys.
"I'm just here to join and help. They've been doing a great job on offense with running the ball. The wideouts have been doing a great job without having Robert (Woods) and me and a couple guys nicked up," he said. "I'm not here to go out and make every play, but I'm here to help and do my job."
Watkins may be downplaying his role, but after his performance against Jacksonville it is fair for Bills fans to use Sunday's game as strong indication of what's to come for the passing attack in the stretch run.