The Carolina Panthers (2-0) won their home opener Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (1-1) in a defensive grind that came down to the final seconds. In Bills head coach Sean McDermott’s return to Charlotte, both teams had their defensive power on display with the Panthers prevailing 9-3.
In a game that lacked any explosive offense, the result was cemented on the final drive when Buffalo failed to convert on fourth down at Carolina’s 33-yard line. With 14 seconds left, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor placed a pass towards the goal line that slipped through wide receiver Zay Jones’ hands.
The rookie had beaten Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis and it appeared Jones would have beaten safety Kurt Coleman before reaching the end zone too had he caught it. Instead, the pass fell incomplete and Carolina regained possession to seal a game decided by field goals.
Though both teams have a reputation for above-average defenses, a result in single-digits was unexpected. The Panthers, who won 23-3 against the San Francisco 49ers last weekend, controlled the ball for nearly 39 minutes of the game but came up empty on all three trips to the red zone.
Despite a run-heavy offense, they managed just 77 rushing yards on the day and found more success through shorter passing plays. Carolina’s most successful possession came in the fourth quarter, as quarterback Cam Newton used this tactic to drive the team 73 yards down the field, completing six of his nine pass attempts.
The Bills also struggled to find an offensive rhythm throughout the game too and had three drives end as three-and-out during the first half. Taylor finished with 125 passing yards and running back LeSean McCoy was held to just nine total rushing yards on 12 carries. Their longest drive also came in the fourth quarter when Buffalo marched 42 yards over 11 plays, but it ended without a game-winning touchdown.
Success in Sacks
Part of the reason for neither offenses finding momentum was due to both teams’ stifling pass rushes. The Bills sacked Newton six times for 50 lost yards while the Panthers brought down Taylor three times. Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers led Carolina with two sacks and Buffalo’s defensive end Jerry Hughes also collected two sacks on the day.
The heavy pressure on Newton raises some concern of protection for the former MVP. After suffering a concussion and torn labrum last season, the Panthers’ star quarterback was hoping to face less stress in the pocket after the team retooled its offensive line.
Left tackle Matt Kalil, who signed a five-year, 55-million dollar contract with Carolina this offseason, got repeatedly beaten by Hughes and talented defensive end Shaq Lawson on the edge, causing Newton to be hit from his blind side. With the team emphasizing the protection of Newton this season, a six-sack result revealed there is still much work to be done by the Panthers’ offensive line.
Taylor was often able to scramble out of a collapsed pocket in order to avoid more sacks than the three Carolina achieved. Buffalo’s line, however, did not allow their quarterback much space to maneuver and failed to open up the rushing attack by McCoy. This performance led to a much more dysfunctional offense than during their Week 1 win against the New York Jets, when the Bills led the NFL in rushing yards (190).
The Bills offensive line’s trouble may have partially resulted from starting left tackle Cordy Glenn being injured. The six-year veteran suffered an ankle injury and did not return to the game after halftime. Glenn, who was replaced by rookie tackle Dion Dawkins, was limited throughout the preseason by a foot injury and did not play last week against the Jets.
Bufflo’s defensive tackle Marcell Dareus also went down with an ankle injury too but later returned before halftime.
The Panthers did not escape the game without injuries of their own. Star tight end Greg Olsen suffered a broken right foot during the first half and came out of the locker room with crutches and a walking boot.
The three-time Pro Bowler is expected to miss most of the remaining games of the season and his absence could be a huge blow to the Panthers offense. Despite only record three catches over the first two games, Olsen led the team in receiving yards last season and became the first tight end to ever record three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Carolina also suffered a scare when Newton was sacked and did not stand up at the end of the third quarter. The quarterback was slowly walked off the field to the medical tent to be evaluated before eventually returning to the game on the Panthers’ next drive.
The Panthers will host divisional rivals New Orleans Saints next Sunday during Week 3. Buffalo will also play on Sunday, looking to bounce back with a win as they host linebacker Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.