Scott Fowler

Perhaps the Carolina Panthers’ luck is changing before our eyes

Buffalo’s Zay Jones (11) had his hands on what could have been a game-winning touchdown catch in the final seconds Sunday but couldn’t haul it in as Carolina’s Kurt Coleman (20) defended in the Panthers’ 9-3 win.
Buffalo’s Zay Jones (11) had his hands on what could have been a game-winning touchdown catch in the final seconds Sunday but couldn’t haul it in as Carolina’s Kurt Coleman (20) defended in the Panthers’ 9-3 win. AP

Last year that pass would have been caught.

That’s the NFL, isn’t it? Sometimes it takes a whole season or two for the breaks to even out, but they eventually do.

The Carolina Panthers edged Buffalo Sunday afternoon, winning a defensive battle in which the Bills had a great chance for a 33-yard touchdown pass to be completed in the final 15 seconds to rookie Zay Jones.

Instead, the former East Carolina star got his hands on the ball and what would have been a fairly difficult catch – and then let it slip away. Instead of what would have been an awful 10-9 loss for a Panthers team that had dominated most of the afternoon, Carolina won 9-3.

Panthers cornerback James Bradberry admitted he made a mistake on the last Buffalo play. Believing that quarterback Tyrod Taylor was going for a first down instead of a TD on fourth and 11 from the Carolina 33, Bradberry cheated up a few yards only to see the ball flying over his head.

“The last play, I got beat,” Bradberry said. “I have to make sure… nothing gets behind me…. If he would have caught it, I would have been hurt. I probably would have cried.”

Linebacker Thomas Davis could only watch as Jones contorted his body and got both hands on the ball. “You hope that he drops it,” Davis said. “And that’s exactly what he did.”

Jones was disconsolate in the Buffalo locker room afterward, as you would expect. “That is a play he has made thousands of times, and next time he will make it,” said Bills fullback (and former Panther) Mike Tolbert.

But Jones didn’t. Carolina didn’t score a single touchdown the whole day and still escaped with a win. That simply never would have happened in 2016.

Despite the Carolina Panthers' win vs. the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, September 17, 2017, Cam Newton still wants to improve his performance.

▪  The Panthers offense needs some healing and next Sunday would seem like a good time to start. New Orleans has started the year 0-2 and gave up three touchdown passes to Tom Brady Sunday – in the first quarter.

I actually thought Cam Newton threw the ball pretty well Sunday when he had time to do so (he was sacked six times).

The misfire to Christian McCaffrey near the end zone on the final drive was the throw people will remember – and the one Newton is most referring to when he said he was disappointed in his “accuracy” Sunday. But don’t forget that Kelvin Benjamin dropped what should have been a TD pass, too, after a big hit. Carolina had two great chances for touchdowns. Buffalo had one, at the end. And nobody converted.

▪  Bill Polian, the former Panthers and Bills general manager, had guessed on ESPN this past week that the crowd might be split down the middle due to the preponderance of Buffalo fans that live in the area. I would put it more at about 55,000 Panthers fans and 15,000 Bills fans in the crowd.

▪  Besides Jones’ drop, the loss of Greg Olsen for multiple weeks to a broken foot will be another sadly unforgettable thing about this game.

Olsen has been a consummate pro and extremely durable throughout his seven seasons in Carolina. With no pun intended, this is a terrible break for both Olsen and the Panthers. However, Ed Dickson could start for some NFL teams, and now he will get his chance.

“Ed is ready to blossom,” Newton said. “He’s a diamond in the rough.”

▪  The Panthers had four guys on the sideline holding screens that looked like they had been pulled from some beach house to provide relief from the hot sun for some of the players sitting on the bench.

I asked on Twitter what the official name for this post should be, and one person replied that it seemed like a “shady job.” Another said: “One word: Interns.”’

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn says his teammate Julius Peppers is a "beast."