The Buffalo Bills and quarterback E.J. Manuel started Friday night’s game picking up right where they left off with the Panthers in Week 2 of last year’s regular season.
But this time, the Panthers defense stuffed the Bills at the goal line rather than allowing a game-winning touchdown.
A host of Panthers, including Chase Blackburn and Charles Godfrey, stopped Bills running back Fred Jackson on fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 2-yard line and forced a turnover on downs.
“We had a tendency on what they were going to do on the goal line, where they were going to run the ball and they tried to bounce it,” Blackburn said. “When 38, the fullback (Frank Summers), came outside to try to lead him, I just hammered him back and we made a good play on it.”
The play came five minutes into the game, which Buffalo won 20-18, and just after Greg Hardy and Robert Lester stopped Jackson for no gain on third-and-1 from the 2.
“It was more so reassurance that we’re back,” Hardy said. “Just that first day in class, that first day on the job. Once you get out there you prove to yourself that you are still the same.”
The stop was a shot in the arm for Carolina’s defense, which several times this preseason has expressed its wish to go from the NFL’s second-best defense to first. The Panthers allowed Manuel and the Bills to move the ball 78 yards in eight plays.
The goal line stand was reminiscent of a similar stand last week in Spartanburg. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly stuffed fullback Mike Tolbert on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line after the Panthers’ offense had dominated the defense in a full-pads practice.
Last year against the Panthers, the Bills went 80 yards in nine plays to score with 2 seconds left on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Manuel to Stevie Johnson.
Thirteen members of their roster either played in the Carolinas at college – including three former Clemson Tigers – or grew up in the Carolinas, including Mario Williams, C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Ross Cockrell said, who played at Charlotte Latin and Duke. “It’s my third time being able to come back here and play, and I always love coming back home and seeing a lot of my family, a lot of friends from high school. There’s no comparison to it.”
Getting to beat the hometown team 20-18 in front of friends and family also made the win more special for several of the players.
“It was good to come back to see my home, where I grew up,” Stephon Gilmore said. He grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., and played at South Carolina. “Playing against the Carolina Panthers, it feels good to get a win.”
Kicker Graham Gano (back), receiver De’Andre Presley (stress fracture), running back Jonathan Stewart (hamstring), safety Tre Boston (groin), safety Roman Harper (toe), defensive end Craig Roh (ankle), defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh (foot), defensive tackle Drake Nevis (legs) and defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) all sat out.
Running back DeAngelo Williams (coach’s decision) did not play.