On a day when he repeatedly beat the best cornerback in the league like a drum, Stevie Johnson will be remembered for a bone-headed touchdown celebration that proved to be a momentum swinger and for a dropped pass that would have snagged victory from defeat.
This, sadly, is what you occasionally receive from the Bills top receiver.
Stevie giveth and Stevie taketh away.
And so it was in Sunday's dramatic, down-to-the-final-play, 28-24 loss to the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
The man whom Jets shut-down cornerback Darrelle Revis failed to keep in check went from hero to goat because he couldn't keep his emotions in check.
Johnson finished with eight receptions for 75 yards and one score - an unheard of performance against Revis, who is so effective in clamping down receivers that most teams limit throws in his direction.
The touchdown - on a 5-yard slant from Ryan Fitzpatrick - gave the Bills a 14-7 lead late in the first half and touched off a foolish end zone celebration by Stevie in which he pretended to pull a gun from an imaginary holster and shoot himself in the leg. His histrionics were an insensitive dig at Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who wound up spending nearly two years in prison after his gun accidentally discharged and wounded him in the leg in a crowded New York nightclub.
No one found Johnson's attempt at humor funny, least of all the officials who flagged him for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The 15 yards were added on the Bills ensuing kickoff, meaning they had to boot the ball from their own 20-yard line.
Not wanting to risk a long return by the Jets, who boast the NFL's top return unit, Buffalo coach Chan Gailey instructed Dave Raymer to squib the kick. Raymer drilled the ball on a line, but it ricocheted off a New York player and was recovered by the Jets at the Bills 36. A few plays later, quarterback Mark Sanchez threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Burress and the game was tied just before intermission.
"That was huge,'' Gailey said.
Yes, it was. But, to their credit, the Bills and Johnson kept battling, and had a chance to win the game in the final minute.
With the ball at the Jets 47 and less than 40 seconds to play, Fitz drew up a play in the huddle in which he told Johnson to streak down the middle. The Bills QB was anticipating a particular blitz by the Jets and felt a quick pass to Stevie in the seam would be open. It was and Fitz laid it in there perfectly to a wide open Johnson - but in a play reminiscent of the drop that would have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers last season - Johnson dropped the ball.
Three snaps later, he managed to get open in the end zone, but this time Fitzpatrick's pass was behind him.
Two more shots at the end zone were well covered and the Jets prevailed.
Johnson, who went into a funk following the drop against the Steelers, was hard on himself afterward, telling reporters: "It was very stupid by me and I felt like it cost us the game."
Gailey pulled Stevie aside following the game to tell him that he needed to put a lid on those celebrations and use more discretion.
"I don't think he's a bad person whatsoever,'' the coach said. "I think he's a good person. I think he has some bad judgment at critical times. I've got to help him get over that. We cannot take that."
Johnson was hardly the only undisciplined Bill Sunday as evidenced by Buffalo's nine penalties for 85 yards.
The drive-killing flags contributed to the Bills fourth consecutive loss and negated a spirited performance by a team that had been outscored 106-26 the previous three games.
Fitzpatrick emerged from his slump, completing 26-of-39 for 264 yards and three scores and did not throw an interception. The Bills cashed in their two turnovers - an interception by Drayton Florence and a muffed-punt fumble recovery by Leodis McKelvin - for two touchdowns. Brad Smith, the kick returner/wildcat quarterback/wide receiver, had a big day against his former team, catching four passes for 77 yards, which included a 36-yard touchdown reception on a ball that looked like it would be picked off by cornerback Antonio Cromartie. And Rayner redeemed himself with a 53-yard field goal that put Buffalo ahead 24-21 in the fourth quarter.
But despite those scintillating performances, the Bills could not overcome their mistakes and the void left by seven starters on the injured reserve list, including MVP running back Fred Jackson.
The depleted offensive line yielded three sacks - including two to former Bills first-round bust Aaron Maybin - and was called for five penalties, though one was nullified by an off-setting penalty against the Jets.
As a result, the Bills now find themselves with a 5-6 record and all but eliminated from serious playoff contention. Sunday's effort was a vast improvement over their previous three games, but moral victories don't count in the NFL standings.
"It's very hard,'' Gailey said of the losing streak. "When you go through it, it either kills you or makes you stronger. That's the old saying, 'If it don't kill you, it makes you stronger.' Hopefully, we get stronger through all this. I hope we become not only stronger but smarter because we can be very good, but if we dumb games away, we're killing ourselves."
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the mid-1960s and covered them since 1985, writing five books about the team along the way. His 14th book overall, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, has just been published by Triumph Books and is available both in print and digital editions. You can read more by Scott at www.scottpitoniak.com .
SCOTT'S REPORT CARD
COACHING: Chan Gailey did a good job of rallying his injury-depleted, demoralized team. They finally came to play after being missing in action for three straight weeks. Sadly, a team that's usually disciplined committed twice as many penalties as they normally do and that comes back to coaching. Grade: C-minus
OFFENSE: Ryan Fitzpatrick bounced back nicely and played well despite poor protection and the absence of his favorite weapon, Fred Jackson. Fitz was sacked three times, had six passes batted down and was hurried at least 16 times. C.J. Spiller was just so-so filling in for Jackson, finishing with 55 yards in 19 carries and three catches for 15 yards. Stevie Johnson and Brad Smith had solid days at receiver, though Johnson's unsportsmanlike penalty and huge drop near the end proved costly. Grade: B-minus
DEFENSE: Drayton Florence's interception set up a touchdown and the Bills limited Mark Sanchez to 180 yards passing. But the up-and-down QB also threw four touchdown passes and Buffalo failed to protect a 24-21 lead, allowing the Jets to march 82 yards in 12 plays for the winning score. Still getting just scant pressure on the quarterback. Grade: C
SPECIAL TEAMS: A week after having a punt blocked, Brian Moorman was sensational, pinning three kicks inside the Jets 20 and two inside their 8. David Rayner redeemed himself after his botched squib kick by booting a go-ahead 53-yard field goal to put the Bills ahead in the fourth quarter. Leodis McKelvin recovered a muffed punt to set up another Buffalo touchdown. Grade: B-plus
OVERALL: Nice effort by a team that might be expected to pack it in, given its losing streak and number of starters on IR. They battled till the last play, but you're measured by wins not moral victories in the NFL, and the 5-6 Bills now appear headed to a 12th consecutive year without a playoff appearance. They went 0-3 on this road trip and return home next Sunday to face Tennessee. Grade: C