Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly jumped from out of nowhere to greet Manuel with a big bear hug and two brief words: "Good job."
On the day the Bills honored Kelly and other past stars during a halftime ceremony, Manuel provided a promising glimpse into the franchise's future. The first-round draft pick out of Florida State threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with 2 seconds left to clinch a 24-23 win over the stunned Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
"I can't even tell you how it felt," Manuel said. "I think I started crying right then. I'm not usually an emotional guy. But I'm going to enjoy these type of things."
Manuel was 29-of-37 passing for 296 yards and bounced back after throwing an interception and losing a fumble on consecutive possessions, with the turnovers leading to field goals by Graham Gano. He became the fifth NFL rookie since 1960 to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback in his first or second game.
"I'm not surprised. EJ doesn't seem like a rookie," said Johnson, who finished with 111 receiving yards. "He earned a lot of our respect."
The Bills (1-1) bounced back from the disappointment of squandering a lead in the final seconds of a season-opening 23-21 loss to New England.
It was a bittersweet first victory for rookie coach Doug Marrone, who took over after Chan Gailey was fired. Marrone was in tears after the game when he revealed he was mourning the loss of a good friend, Rob Edson, the Onondaga Community College athletic director, who died suddenly Saturday.
"I know that Rob was watching, and I can't stop thinking about that," Marrone said. "When that game was coming down to the end, my prayers just go out to him and his family."
"Roller coaster. That's about as bad as it gets," Rivera said. "You had an opportunity to win the game, an opportunity to close it out, and you didn't. ... We had a chance to make a play and we didn't. That's the thing that's hard to swallow: We just have to make one play."
"This isn't about learning hard lessons," said Steve Smith, who had 52 receiving yards. "This is like going to the dentist and getting several teeth pulled without any anesthesia, laughing gas, nothing."
The last one came after Cam Newton led a 12-play, 39-yard drive that ate up more than 5½ minutes, capped by Gano's 39-yard field goal with 1:38 left.
"He was focused. He was locked in," Johnson said of Manuel. "He was in there like a No. 1 quarterback."
NOTES: The Bills' previous single-game record was four sacks, shared by Bruce Smith, who did it twice, and Cornelius Bennett. ... Carolina allowed 149 yards rushing after previously giving up no more than 70 in its previous five games. ... The Panthers lost S Charles Godfrey (right Achilles tendon) and CB Josh Thomas (concussion). ... Dan Carpenter hit a 55-yard field goal for the Bills.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press