Ten quick thoughts on the Carolina Panthers 9-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills:
1. Carolina needed to score six on a nice first drive
For the most part, the Panthers’ first drive against Buffalo was well-executed and delivered all of the right punches.
After an overthrow of tight end Greg Olsen, quarterback Cam Newton fired chunk gains to receiver Kelvin Benjamin, Olsen and reciever Devin Funchess in turn to keep the ball moving downfield. Part of this was exactly how Carolina predicted: Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey drew two defenders at times away from these receivers to give them space to work.
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The Panthers’ offense held the ball for 6:11, but on second and 6 on the Buffalo 16, Benjamin dropped what could have been a touchdown pass after a collision with Bills safety Jordan Poyer and the team had to settle for a field goal – an event that ultimately allowed the Bills to keep the game much tighter than it should have been throughout.
2. At first, Cam looked like Cam – except for one thing
Newton used his legs often in the first quarter to evade two sacks, and turned both into chunk gains of 15 yards and 10 yards – looking like his “old self” in the process, except for one thing: On the end of his second run, he slid safely down as coaches have encouraged instead of lowering his shoulder to try to bull through the defense.
3. Bills brought lots of early pressure, and Panthers offensive line didn’t keep up
After not taking a sack in the first game of the year, and only getting hurried twice, Newton took back-to-back sacks early in the second quarter to cap a promising drive. The second sack pushed Carolina backwards out of field goal range.
Newton was sacked six times in the game.
On Newton’s sixth sack of the game, he injured his ankle but was cleared to return by the next offensive series.
4. James Bradberry and Daryl Worley’s big plays set the defensive tone
Carolina’s two second-year corners wasted no time on Sunday afternoon. Both forced big plays on Buffalo receivers that helped the Panthers enforce a quick three-and-out on the Bills’ first drive. Carolina forced a second consecutive three-and-out later in the quarter.
5. “Missed opportunities”
After settling for a field goal on their first drive, the Panthers missed another opportunity on their second. Running back Jonathan Stewart carried two defenders for a nine-yard gain on a first down, but the following two runs were swallowed by Buffalo and Carolina had to punt.
On yet another promising drive late in the second quarter, Carolina bit off chunk plays of 10, 21 and 20 yards but was again held to a field goal after Newton was nearly picked off in the end zone on a ball to receiver Russell Shepard in double coverage. Poyer again made the play.
Midway through the third quarter, the Panthers’ offense seemed to implode on a drive in which Newton was sacked for a fourth time, drew a delay of game penalty, and overthrew a wide-open Ed Dickson.
In the fourth quarter, Newton flat-out missed a wide open McCaffrey on third down – a throw that if made, would have been an easy touchdown.
6. Michael Palardy is a weapon
Since Carolina had to punt in tricky situations – especially in the first half – it’s a good thing Palardy was the one executing.
Palardy’s first punt was faced off against burner (and former Panther) Kaelin Clay, so the punter hung it high in the air to force a fair catch.
His next, on a very short field after Newton’s second sack, took a nice bounce and was downed at the 2 by gunner Shepard.
Palardy’s 55-yard punt in the third quarter, plus a Buffalo penalty, flipped the field nicely in Carolina’s favor once again.
7. Receivers dominated the middle of the field – when Cam had time to throw to them
Carolina’s receivers especially saw early success in the seam on Sunday.
In the first half, Newton threw for 129 yards to seven different receivers, finding especially large gaps in the middle of the field.
But getting held to six points in the first half despite accumulating almost 200 yards of offense meant that while Carolina’s game plan worked, the offense simply could not execute at the end of their drives.
8. The Panthers defense looks formidable
Between hassling quarterback Tyrod Taylor, allowing just one first down in the first half and not allowing Buffalo to get past midfield in the first half, Carolina’s defense was juiced up on Sunday.
When the Bills did make it past midfield early in the second quarter and head coach Sean McDermott went for the conversion on fourth down, the play was swallowed up by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis and safety Kurt Coleman and Carolina got the ball back.
Julius Peppers executed a monster sack – his second of the game – on third down later in the quarter to force another Bills punt.
For the second consecutive week, Carolina’s defense allowed only three points.
9. Greg Olsen absent
Tight end Greg Olsen is notable for his durability, but in the first half on Sunday he had to limp off to the locker room with a right foot injury. He returned to the sideline in the third quarter in street clothes, crutches and a boot on his right foot.
10. Graham Gano plays cleanup
While Carolina’s offense struggled to cap drives, kicker Graham Gano did not miss any of his field goals to keep the barely-there Panthers lead intact. Gano has been a perfect six-for-six in field goal attempts this season.