By Tim Graham
On the Buffalo Bills' fourth-quarter comeback drive, EJ Manuel completed six of his eight throws.
One of those incomplete passes was a critical drop.
The play was critical not because it was a mistake, but for how the Bills benefited from it.
On first down from the Carolina Panthers' 46-yard line and with 47 seconds left, Manuel checked down to running back Fred Jackson nowhere near the sideline. Rather than catch the ball and get tackled quickly by linebacker Thomas Davis for a short gain, Jackson dropped it.
The clock stopped at 40 seconds. That was important for the Bills. They had no timeouts.
"The risk-reward for this catch right now is not great," Jackson recalled thinking. "If I catch the ball for a 1-yard gain, it's not going to do anything for us in the long run and will run 10 seconds off the clock.
"It was a good opportunity for me to drop the ball, and we got the play called the way I wanted it to."
There was confusion after the play. Jackson was unsure officials called the pass incomplete and was concerned they might rule it a catch and a fumble.
"I dropped it," Jackson said, "but then I'm scrambling because I thought, 'Oh, s---, I didn't hear a whistle! They might call it a fumble!' But it was one of those things."
Panthers linebacker Jon Beason disagreed with the call on the field.
"I felt that the one checkdown was a completion that they called an incompletion," Beason said. "The clock would've run there, and I think that would've changed the game. I think that was a fumble, but that's in the past now."
Manuel's performance will be remembered, but Jackson's drop was pivotal.
"That's a great play by him," Bills center Eric Wood said. "That kind of shows what type of dude Fred Jackson is for us, a guy that can really do anything for us.
"He's probably the best chipper and pass-blocker in the NFL as a running back. I know other teams have talked to us about it, him coming out of the backfield and waylaying guys. For him to make a play like that is just him being an awesome football player."
Somewhere, though, a fantasy owner needed those points Jackson left on the turf.
"I'll take a win for us and them just be mad at me," Jackson said with a laugh. "I'll deal with that."
taggedEJ Manuel | Eric Wood | Fred Jackson