By Danny Picard
FOXBORO -- Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson described the Patriots offense as "legit" in a conference call on Wednesday, and says the Bills will need to prevail in a "shootout" if they're to come away with a victory Sunday.
Johnson seems to understand the situation his 4-10 Bills are in. But in winning four of its last six games, Buffalo is a team that's been playing much better than it was when it began the season with an 0-8 record.
This season has been a complete learning experience for the Bills, and more specifically, for Johnson.
The last time he played against the Patriots, Johnson had 3 receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown in Buffalo's 38-30 Week 3 loss at Gillettte. The most memorable part of that 37-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was Johnson's 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty after the score, which he drew for colorfully blasting off an imaginary musket, mocking New England's mascots.
The last time you've probably seen Johnson in the national spotlight was in Week 12, when he dropped a potential game-winning 40-yard pass in the end zone while wide open in the opening minutes of overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Three plays later, Buffalo punted, and the Steelers scored a game-winning field goal on the drive.
Johnson's postgame press conference showed an ever-so-emotional third-year receiver, desperate to learn from his mistakes. He reiterated that emotion on Wednesday.
"Besides football, I don't have no other job," said Johnson. "I have everything in this thing, this football thing. So when I don't perform to how I feel I should be out there, I take it hard. Because this is how I eat. This is really my life. This is my family's life too. So I feel like I have to make all those plays."
Johnson has 943 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions this season. He considers his breakout season a product of opportunity.
"I haven't done anything over the top, or did anything too different," said Johnson. "It was just opportunity. And when guys that I learned a lot from, which is Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, when they ended up leaving, or when the coaches didn't bring them back, it just opened up a spot for me."
And he's thrived on it. Sure, he -- and his teammates -- made some mistakes along the way. But he believes Buffalo should now start to be taken seriously.
"We've went from wanting to go out there, showing that we can play with a team, to going out there and wanting to show that we will win against teams like New England," said Johnson. "That's the difference in our mentality."
Entering Sunday's rematch with the Patriots, Johnson believes there's not much different with New England's defense from the last time they met in Week 3. And perhaps, saying that is another mistake he'll have to learn from.
"It's an athletic defense," said Johnson. "They're aggressive, talented, but you know, everybody's like that on Sundays, especially in the NFL. So it's everything that we've seen.
"I can't really say that there's too much of a change," added Johnson. "They're still running the same defenses, so there's not too much of a difference. They're more comfortable in their places, and that's pretty much the only thing that I can say about it."
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on his streaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from 9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.