Carolina Panthers see playoff hopes vanish in 31-14 loss to Buffalo Bills
The Carolina Panthers (5-8) arrived in Orchard Park prepared to fight for an illusive win. With a new play caller in Jeff Nixon and a new sense of being prepared, and according to one player, over-prepared, the Panthers appeared to ready to put the mistakes behind them.
Due to mistakes resurfacing and a stout Buffalo Bill's (7-6) defense, the Panthers did not mange to score until late in the second quarter on a short Cam Newton run. The drive did, however, show the team's ability to muster themselves after taking two big shots from the Bill's offense led by Josh Allen. That drive included a play where Robby Anderson rushed for 30 yards. to set up Newton's score.
Newton, with two fumbles in the first half, was the only quarterback to take the field for the Panthers in the first half - a departure from Matt Rhule said would be a dual passer approach. Newton, however, kept the Panthers upright and showed how his grit and experience was needed in the team's current dilemma and went 6-for-14 for 39 yards in the air and had 9 carries for 32 yards on the ground in the first half.
An unlikely name showed up as the lead rusher for the Panthers in the first half. Robby Anderson led the rushing effort for the Panthers with two carries for 33 yards.
The Panthers went into the half trailing 17-8. A big reason for the Panthers low scoring effort at the half was due to placekicker Zane Gonzales not being available after he went down with a Quad injury during the pregame warm-ups. That also forced the Panthers to try to convert on several fourth downs. The Panthers converted only 1-of-5 on fourth down.
But another hurdle for Carolina was a familiar foe. Penalties.
KEY FIRST HALF PENALTIES
#9 CB Stephon Gilmore - False Start - 2nd quarter
#90 DT DaQuan Jones - 12 men on field - 2nd quarter
#53 DE Brian Burns - Roughing the Passer - 2nd quarter
From Josh Allen's high throws that missed their mark on at least three key passing attempts to the first half interception that Jeremy Chinn had to end one Buffalo drive, the Bills left the door open for Carolina to stay in the game while struggling with their own list of inconsistencies.
Jermaine Carter was walked off the field during the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion just after the Panthers' defensive tackle Bravvion Roy received a questionable penalty for unnecessary roughness on the sideline.
The Panthers defensive efforts to control Buffalo in the red zone continued into the second half. Josh Allen completed a 20-yard pass down the middle to G. Davis to cap a 10-play 74-yard drive to put the Bills up 24-8.
The Panthers early fourth quarter drive that would have brought them to within one score ended in the red zone when Cam Newton's pass for DJ Morre was deflected at the line by Bills' defensive end Jeremy Hughes.
On their second possession of the fourth quarter, Carolina showed they would fight until the last second on the clock. Cam Newton connect with running back Ameer Abdullah to cap a 4-play 43 yard drive and get within 10 points with a lot of clock left. The Cam Newton two-point conversion attempt, which would have made it a one-score lead for Buffalo, failed.
The Bills extended their lead when Gabriel Davis grabbed his second touchdown of the day when he hauled in a 14-yard pass from Josh Allen who finished the day with 34 attempts for 210 yards and three touchdowns. The Panthers did get into the Bills backfield and sack Allen four times to the credit of Yetur Gross-Matos (2.5), Haason Reddick (0.5) and Brian Burns (1.0).
Former Carolina Panthers A.J. Klein made the interception to seal the win for Buffalo.
Cam Newton led the the Panthers rushing attack with 15 carries for 71 yards and 18-of-39 for 156 yards in the air. The dual running back approach that had worked in previous games did not work well in against Buffalo, but Jeff Nixon got creative with the pair. Ameer Abdullah finished the game as one of the leading receivers for Carolina with two receptions for 32 yards.
But the Achilles heel for Carolina was once again the offensive line. Cam Newton was sacked four times including two times by former Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada.
The Panthers fall to 5-9 on the season after the 31-14 loss to the Bills and saw any playoff hopes dashed. But another big question for Carolina will be what decisions they have to make with their kicking game going forward.