By Tim Graham
The play took a heartbeat to say and 3.3 seconds from snap to completion.
It felt like an eternity.
With six seconds left in Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Buffalo Bills were 2 yards away from a touchdown they had to have. The Carolina Panthers were up by six points.
EJ Manuel, his eyes darting about after 9-yard scramble, called the play:
Two Right Smack.
"It's pretty simple," Bills receiver Chris Hogan said. "When you get down in the red zone, it doesn't need to be a big, wordy thing.
"With our offense trying to go fast, getting down there is about being precise in a couple of words. And it gets pretty loud down there. The less you have to say is better for our offense."
The Bills ran the play twice before. The first came early in the third quarter. Manuel threw to Stevie Johnson in the back of the end zone, but Panthers safety Charles Godfrey knocked it out. Late in the third quarter, Manuel connected with rookie Robert Woods on a slant for a two-point conversion.
The clock was stopped with six seconds to play, but Buffalo was in a hurry.
Carolina's secondary was ravaged by injuries and on its heels, having a Colin Jones interception wiped out by linebacker Luke Kuechly's pass interference two plays earlier.
Manuel was in a shotgun formation with running back Fred Jackson to his right.
Hogan lined up wide left and would run a slant route. Johnson was in the left slot and would run a corner route. Scott Chandler was tight left and would drag across the middle. T.J. Graham was wide right for a circle route.
Josh Norman, a second-string cornerback, was on Hogan. D.J. Moore, a third-string cornerback, was on Johnson.
This is how the crucial moment unfolded.
Hogan: "Stevie is the first option. We had worked on that in practice. We were waiting for it. We thought that was going to be the throw we would have the majority of the time."
Jackson: "Once I hear the protection from EJ, I look at the defense and see what front they have, figure out who I'm responsible to block. There's a route called for me in the protection, but in the look they gave us, I was full-time protect."
Johnson: "I'm looking at the guy ahead of me, and the way he was playing, I knew I was going to win if it's man coverage."
Hogan: "I was in and out of that series a couple times. I just wanted to be ready to make a play. In my mind, being on that side of the ball, I had a pretty good idea EJ was looking that way."
Bills center Eric Wood: "We're trying to diagnose the front in a short amount of time, and they kind of came up on an all-out blitz. The mike linebacker walked up and mugged me over the top of my face, so we switched the protection to go to him. We had all the guys over top of us."
Jackson: "I had a messed up look. I had two guys that I was responsible for right on the line [Kuechly about to shoot between the left guard and tackle and Jones inside right tackle Erik Pears]. I got caught in between which one of them to go hit."
Johnson: "Maybe two seconds before the ball was snapped, [Moore yells to Norman] 'Check the corner route! Check the corner route!' Once he's telling his guy to check the corner, I'm done. EJ probably goes underneath to Hoge."
Jackson: "The ball was snapped. I was a little late hitting Kuechly because he was in the backside A-gap. I came across EJ, hit Kuechly, spun around, fell to the ground and looked up. I never saw the throw. I never saw anything."
Wood: "Guys ended up coming free because we didn't have enough blockers. I just took the guy right over me."
Hogan: "I knew the corner was behind me and felt I had position. I knew there was a chance that ball might be coming to me. ... After seeing it on film, that safety was coming down pretty hard. EJ did a good job of seeing that and not taking that quick slant and waiting for the play to develop."
Johnson: "With us not having timeouts and moving the ball, it had them rattled. We had the momentum. I think they were mentally gassed."
Hogan: "As soon as I saw EJ look off me, I knew the ball was going to the back of the end zone."
Wood: "Maybe I heard the crowd, or maybe it was my defender peeling off me, but that alerted me the ball was gone."
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy: "Honestly, I'm going to tell you like this: I'm a pass-rusher. So everything is behind me. I rushed my behind off, I thought. We couldn't get to him."
Hogan: "I just turned around and watched the ball fly over my head."
Johnson: "What led me to think I was open was me looking back and seeing the ball coming. I'm thinking, 'OK, the ball wouldn't be coming to me if the guy was behind me.' "
Wood: "I saw the ball in the air, and I figured EJ was taking another corner shot that we had failed on a couple times earlier. I thought, 'Aw, no.' I thought we'd try a slant or something."
Hogan: "There was a miscommunication, and both of them [Norman and Moore] came to me. Stevie being wide open in the end zone, it really doesn't get much better than that."
Panthers linebacker Jon Beason: "We could've had better communication. We've just got to finish."
Johnson: "Usually in that situation, I'm just thinking about trying to find my calm. Yesterday, I probably thought a million things in that split second, a lot of things, even the Pittsburgh drop. I'm thinking about all this stuff."
Manuel: "He was open. He ran a great route."
Johnson: "We want the throw to be outside, toward the sideline. But when I found the ball, I said, 'OK, let me try to get underneath and cradle this one and make sure I get this one in.' It happened."
Jackson: "Any time you hear the crowd erupt, you know we made the play we needed to win the game. It's a euphoria. You don't know what's happened, but your senses are telling you, 'We just won the football game.' "
Manuel: "I can't even tell you how I felt. Honestly, I just don't know. I started crying there. I'm not usually an emotional guy."
Wood: "Times like that make playing football fun, especially for O-linemen. It's not the most glamorous position. Not everything you do is fun, but celebrating wins are fun."
Hogan: "That whole drive was kind of a hold-your-breath moment. That was the best football game I've been a part of."
Johnson: "Ride or die with me, man. That's what I'm here for. I've done felt the ground before, so I'm not afraid of it. Just go with me."
taggedChris Hogan | EJ Manuel | Eric Wood | Erik Pears | Fred Jackson | Scott Chandler | T.J. Graham