Sammy Watkins got his targets, and by halftime he was the Bills leading receiver. Four catches, 48 yards, and a touchdown. Unfortunately, he sustained another injury by halftime too.
With 20 seconds left to play in the first half, Watkins found himself wide open on the right side of the scoreboard end zone. He waved his arms to get quarterback EJ Manuel's attention, and then he collapsed. He recovered enough to catch the football on his knees, but he immediately flung the ball away, staying on the ground until the Bills trainers could help him off the field.
"It was great to see Sammy out there until he got hurt," said head coach Rex Ryan. "I think the thing that's killing me right now, I mean it's frustrating. I mean injuries are a part of the game there's no question about it. But we've been so snake bit it's just unbelievable to me."
The good news is that the injury wasn't to his problematic calf, the one of which Watkins said, "If it pops, it pops," earlier in the week. Instead, the 2014 first round draft pick suffered a high ankle sprain. CBS television cameras showed Watkins using crutches in the tunnel before the start of third quarter.
The injury is all the more frustrating because Watkins demonstrated on that drive just how much he can spark the offense. After four consecutive three-and-outs, Manuel found Watkins four times on the team's sixth drive for pick-ups of eight, nine, nine, and 22 yards for the touchdown. That combination led the way on the Bills 14-play, 86-yard drive, their longest drive of the game.
"I have to watch the film, but being out there I know he was sparking us, sparking the crowd," said Robert Woods. "The crowd loved him getting his catches. They were big catches. One was the touchdown, a couple were on third down. Those are plays that he's been capable of making since he's been here."
Two other Bills starters, Goodwin injured
Watkins wasn't the only wounded Bill in the contest. Fellow wide receiver Marquise Goodwin suffered a rib injury, and offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson left the game in the first quarter with a concussion. On the defensive side, tackle Kyle Williams took a hit to his left knee with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Flanked by offensive guard Kraig Urbik and a team trainer, he limped to the sideline and was carted to the locker room.
"I think [the injuries are] affecting everybody's morale, mine included," Ryan said. "You have a vision for what this team could be when we're healthy. It's frustrating because you know you don't have your parts. I know we can compete with anybody, but it just seems like we take a step forward and then we take two steps back. It's been a frustrating year and these injuries have just been amazing. Hopefully we can right the ship and get our guys back and I truly believe that we have a very talented team, but I'd love to have that ability to get the back healthy."
Watkins, Goodwin, Henderson, and Kyle Williams join wide receiver Percy Harvin, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, running back Karlos Williams, safety Aaron Williams, and corner back Leodis McKelvin among those that remained sidelined Sunday. Running back LeSean McCoy has also been nagged by injuries since the preseason.
Some media reports indicated that Kyle Williams could be out for up to four weeks. Ryan denied those reports post-game.
"I can't confirm that," the coach said. "I know he went out with a knee. The reports that I've heard a lot when they come here there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of truth to them. I think we'll wait on that one."
Manuel, who got his first start since Week Four of last season in place of the injured Taylor, said injuries are just part of the game.
"There's a 100% injury rate in football, so it's always going to be next man up," he said.
Four more 'next-men' will likely have to be up and ready for the Jacksonville Jaguars in London next Sunday.