TORONTO - Once again, Stevie Johnson can be a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing Buffalo Bills season.
The speedy receiver needs 224 yards over Buffalo's final three regular-season games to become the first receiver in club history to register three straight 1,000-yard campaigns. And on Sunday when the Bills host the Seattle Seahawks at Rogers Centre, if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hits Johnson with a TD strike, they will become just the fourth tandem in franchise history to connect on 23 or more touchdowns.
"That's crazy, I didn't even know that," Johnson said Friday on a visit to Toronto. "I don't look into stats like that and last year I was the first (Bills) receiver to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and I didn't know about that at all until about this time last season.
"It would definitely be cool but, really, I'm not shooting for records, I'm just trying to play games for my team. But just the guys who have played here like (Andre) Reed, (Eric) Moulds, (James) Lofton, (Lee) Evans, (Don) Beebe, there are so many great receivers and if Fitz and I can pull this off it would be a pretty cool personal accomplishment."
So, too, would be a third straight 1,000-yard season. But it's something Johnson, 26, would relish much more if it helped Buffalo (5-8) finish its season with three straight victories, starting with Sunday's "home" game against the upstart Seahawks (8-5).
Even then, Buffalo (5-8) would still need a lot of help from other teams to not miss the NFL playoffs for a 13th straight season. But Johnson, a 2008 seventh-round pick who signed a five-year, US$36.25-million contract with the Bills this off-season, remains hopeful.
"That (winning out) is basically the plan," he said. "You never know how each Sunday is going to go.
"It's already been a wild year . . . at this point in the AFC, if we win out who knows what will happen?''
History certainly isn't on Buffalo's side.
Sunday's game will mark the seventh time Buffalo has played a Dec. 16 contest, and is a dismal 1-5 on that date.
Seattle (8-5) is also chasing a fifth win in six games and is one victory away from clinching its first winning season since going 10-6 in 2007. Running back Marshawn Lynch will also face his former team for the first time since Buffalo dealt its 2007 first-round selection to the Seahawks in 2010.
The five-foot-11, 220-pound Lynch has rushed for a career-high 1,266 yards this season and ran for 128 yards on 11 carries in last weekend's lopsided 58-0 victory over Arizona. Buffalo took Lynch 12th overall in the 2007 draft and he surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau his first two seasons before being dealt for fourth- and fifth-round picks.
But the combination of Lynch and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson along with a solid defence has Seattle very much in the NFC playoff picture. Wilson, a third-round 2012 draft pick, has completed 63 per cent of his passes for 2,492 yards with 20 TDs and nine interceptions.
Wilson was a highly regarded 2012 NFL draft prospect following a solid college career split between North Carolina State and Wisconsin. But many NFL officials couldn't look past Wilson's height (five foot 11), even though he's as tall as New Orleans star quarterback Drew Brees.
Andrew Luck (who is six inches taller than Wilson) and the six-foot-two Robert Griffin III were selected first and second, respectively, in this year's draft while Wilson dropped to the third round before being taken 75th overall by Seattle. However, Wilson has more TD strikes than either Luck or Griffin III and is making a strong pitch for the NFL's top rookie award.
Sunday's contest is the last under the inaugural Bills Toronto Series agreement which saw Rogers Communication Inc. pay the Buffalo club a whopping US$78 million to stage three exhibition and five regular-season games at Rogers Centre. Although no formal announcement has been made, the deal is expected to be extended through 2017 once Buffalo finalizes a new lease agreement for Ralph Wilson Stadium after the present one expires at season’s end.
But none of the games has ever been a sellout at Rogers Centre, which has a seating capacity of about 54,000 for football. One reason was hefty ticket prices that originally averaged over $185 but has reportedly been slashed to around $99 for Sunday's contest.
Bills players have complained that while Buffalo is the home squad, the atmosphere in the domed facility doesn’t come close to replicating the loud, ear-splitting support the team gets at its regular home venue. Toronto fans have often been as boisterous in their support of the visiting teams as they have for the Bills and playing indoors has removed two of the biggest challenges of playing in Orchard Park, N.Y., at this time of year — the cold weather and swirling winds.
"I don't look at it as a negative at all," Johnson said of playing in Toronto. "I think it's a good thing we're spreading the NFL here in Toronto.''
Buffalo has struggled to establish home-field advantage at Rogers Centre, having posted a 1-3 record in regular-season games there during the series, the victory being a 23-0 decison over Washington last year. The Bills did win two exhibition games there, with a third scheduled for here earlier this year being moved back to Ralph Wilson Stadium due to a scheduling conflict.
Seattle is 6-0 at home but just 2-5 away from CenturyLink Field. However, at least the Seahawks will be playing indoors — the forecast for Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday was for cold temperatures and rain.
Seattle is coming off a 23-17 road win over Chicago on Dec. 2 and will have a Canadian on its roster Sunday.
Punter Jon Ryan, 31, of Regina, is in his fifth season with the Seahawks and seventh in the NFL (2006-’07 with Green Bay). The former University of Regina star began his pro career with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2004-’05).
Former Calgary Stampeder Brandon Browner, a Pro Bowl cornerback, is in his second season with Seattle but won’t play Sunday. The six-foot-four, 221-pound Browner is serving a four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and will miss the rest of the regular season.
Johnson isn't the only Bills player closing in on a career milestone.
Fitzpatrick needs just four more TD passes for a single-season career high of 25, which would mark the fifth such season by a Bills quarterback but first since Jim Kelly in 1991. Fitzpatrick also needs 282 passing yards to join Kelly (five seasons) as the only Buffalo players to register three straight 3,000-yard passing campaigns.
Also, Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller needs 56 rushing yards to record the first 1,000-yard season of his career and is averaging a solid 6.6 yards per carry, the NFL's highest through 13 games since Jim Brown in 1963.