Buffalo Bills first-year head coach Sean McDermott, after a long stint as Carolina’s defensive coordinator, knows as much about Cam Newton and the Panthers offense as well as anyone.
What he couldn’t quite figure out in his second game as an NFL head coach was how to get into the end zone against the Panthers defense he led for six seasons.
That combination led to Sunday’s ugly, 9-3 Panthers victory in their home opener.
“It is tough to win in this league when all you can do is kick field goals, but you’ve got to give them credit because they played hard as well,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
A Tyrod Taylor pass bounced off the hands of rookie wide receiver Zay Jones inside the Carolina 5 on fourth and 11 from the Carolina 33, and the Panthers survived.
Panthers kicker Graham Gano made field goals of 34, 28 and 20 yards, the last of which gave Carolina a 9-3 lead with 2:38 to play. But the Panthers (2-0) never found the end zone, despite twice reaching the red zone.
It didn’t help the Panthers offense that center Ryan Kalil didn’t play, although he was dressed, after reportedly waking up on Sunday with a sore neck. And tight end Greg Olsen left in the first half with what he confirmed afterward is a broken right foot, returning to the sideline after halftime using crutches and wearing a boot.
And Newton spent time in the sideline injury tent after the Bills’ sixth sack of the day, with an ankle injury.
But the Panthers survived the Bills, and McDermott, although Newton said it wasn’t McDermott who caused the Panthers’ struggles.
“It wasn’t anything he did that frustrated me,” Newton did. “That was self-inflicted frustration.”
Three who mattered
Kelvin Benjamin: After being targeted only twice in the season opener at San Francisco, Benjamin caught six passes on eight targets for 77 yards.
Julius Peppers: At age 37, Peppers made six tackles, including two sacks of Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor that gave him 146 in his 16-year career.
Graham Gano: After being challenged by rookie draft pick Nathan Butker in the preseason, Gano remains perfect on the season after his three makes on Sunday.
▪ Bills safety Jordan Poyer’s shot to Kelvin Benjamin’s ribs in the end zone prevented a touchdown on Carolina’s game-opening drive. And looked like it hurt, as Benjamin stayed down. He returned for the next series.
▪ Newton may not have as many designed runs this season, but when he scrambles he’s still very effective. He had nifty runs of 15 and 10 yards on broken plays in the first quarter alone.
▪ The Panthers offensive line, which didn’t give up a sack in the opener at San Francisco, gave up six against Buffalo.
▪ With Kalil not playing, Tyler Larsen started. With Greg Van Roten inactive, Kalil dressed for the game and could have played if necessary.
▪ Panthers tight end Greg Olsen went to the locker room with a right foot injury, and his return was initially called probable. He didn’t return to the game, but later came back to the sideline with crutches and a boot.
▪ Newton finished 20 of 32 for 228 yards, without a touchdown or an interception.
▪ Consecutive sacks of Newton took the Panthers out of field goal range early in the second quarter, but Michael Palardy’s punt was downed at the 2.
▪ A field goal by former N.C. State kicker Stephen Hauschka with 11:09 to play in the game cut Carolina’s lead to 6-3.
▪ Panthers rookie Christian McCaffrey had 10 yards on eight carries and four catches for 34 yards. He also averaged 6 yards on five punt returns, with a long of 11.
▪ Carolina receiver Devin Funchess had 68 yards on four catches, with a long of 24.
They said it
▪ “We missed one, we took a big shot and dropped in, unfortunately, but we still put ourselves in position to score points.” – Rivera, on Benjamin’s opportunity in the end zone on the opening drive.
▪ “This is a very elusive and dangerous quarterback. He forced us to keep an eye on him, which allowed some other things to happen.” – Rivera, on Taylor, who finished with 55 rushing yards on eight carries, and was 17-of-25 passing for 125 yards.
▪ “I was running a route and I just stepped and I just fell. I just felt something in my right foot. I didn’t touch anybody.” – Olsen, on what he confirmed was a broken foot.
▪ “I can’t keep having those little mishaps. Let me check myself. I need to trust the whole process. I know in the back of my mind, things will be shaking ... the way we want them to. ... We will get better, and I know that.” – Newton