CHARLOTTE, N.C. – What was nearly unfathomable Sunday afternoon wasn’t the fact that Buffalo was comically abysmal on offense; it was that somehow, some way, the Bills still had a chance to beat the Carolina Panthers in the dying seconds at Bank of America Stadium.
It was an afternoon of bumbling and stumbling for Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and the rest of their buddies on offense, but thanks to an inspired performance by their comrades on defense, the Bills trailed only 9-3 when they took possession of the ball with 2:35 left to play. You had to rub your eyes as you looked at the scoreboard, realizing they were one touchdown away from winning the game.
“Those guys played hard,” Sean McDermott said of his team, which lost in his return to Carolina when the Bills, not surprisingly, failed to punch it in on that final possession. “To have a chance to win the game at the end, that’s what you look for, an opportunity like that. We had a good look at it, we just came up short.”
Weird things happen every week in the NFL, and when the Bills’ offense marched onto the field after the defense had held the Panthers to a field goal with a gritty goal-line stand, it was tough not to think that something really weird was about to happen. Maybe the Bills could get off the deck and pull it out and, for a brief moment, it sure looked possible.
Taylor, who struggled all day throwing the ball, completed a couple passes, and when he hit Andre Holmes on the left sideline for a first down at the Panthers 22 with just over a minute left, the unthinkable seemed possible. And then came the penalty flag, an offensive pass interference on Holmes, and the rally seemed to die right there.
Ultimately, it came down to fourth-and-11 from the 33 with 14 seconds remaining, and Taylor’s pass to Zay Jones near the goal line on the right sideline fell incomplete, essentially ending the game.
Here are some thoughts I had about the 9-3 loss:
What happened on the final play?
On that final play, I tried to get an explanation on what happened, but Taylor ducked my question. From my vantage point, he didn’t throw a great pass, Jones had to turn his body around, and failed to make the grab. Was it a poor pass, or did Jones run the wrong route?
Jones, who was in tears after the game, took the blame, saying, “It was a well-thrown ball, it was the perfect play to beat the coverage. I just didn’t make the catch.”
So, I asked Taylor his opinion. All Taylor would say is “We didn’t execute the play that was called, point blank.”
Earlier in his interview, Taylor said of Jones, “He’s a young player, a lot is being asked of him. There are a lot of plays that are going to be made and a lot not going to be made and the main thing is to learn from it and move on.”
This is no secret; Taylor’s ball placement is often askew, and I think if he had thrown that pass better, Jones wouldn’t have had to turn his body and might have caught it for a winning touchdown. Alas, we’ve gotten used to this sort of thing with this quarterback.
Big trouble if the Bills can’t run
Every team the Bills play this season is going to build their defensive game plan around stopping LeSean McCoy by any means necessary. The Jets tried, and they failed. The Panthers are way better than the Jets, and they succeeded.
McCoy rushed for nine yards on 12 carries, one of the worst games of his NFL career. He was helpless against the stout Panthers front seven led by linemen Kawann Short and Julius Peppers, and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. The Panthers stacked the line to stop McCoy and dared the Bills to throw downfield, but of course, the Bills can’t throw downfield so it made for a loathsome day of offense.
The biggest problem for the Bills Sunday was their offensive line. They were overmatched up front as the Panthers were able to close off the running lanes, and when McCoy was forced to bounce outside, he had nowhere to run because Kuechly and Davis are so good sideline to sideline. They combined for 12 tackles.
The pass rush was dominant
Cam Newton isn’t the easiest quarterback in the league to sack, but the Bills got to him six times for 50 yards in losses. Jerry Hughes had two, while Jordan Poyer, Shaq Lawson, Eddie Yarbrough and Lorenzo Alexander had one each.
I like what I see from this defense. McDermott and Leslie Frazier seem to have a nice feel for when to blitz, and how to get a guy free. We’ve seen Poyer do it twice from the blind side in the first two games.
And you have to like the way these guys battle. In eight quarters, the Bills have allowed one touchdown. Late in this game, the Panthers could have put it away with a first-and-goal at the 1, but the Bills turned them away, forced a field goal, and gave the offense one more chance.
► Play of the game: There weren’t many to choose from, so let’s go with the last one of the game, the incomplete pass from Taylor to Jones. In my view, if the ball had been thrown on target, Jones would have had a better chance to catch it and he may have scored the winning touchdown.
► Player of the game: Poyer. The Bills safety has been a revelation in his first two games with the team. Sunday, he recorded another sack on a well-designed blitz, he was in on 11 tackles, and he broke up three passes, one of which saved a touchdown.
► Unsung hero: Alexander. The man just keeps working hard, and he sets a great example for his teammates. He was in on nine tackles, had a sack, and one of his other tackles went for a loss as he helped spearhead an outstanding defensive effort.
► Key stat: The Bills' two running backs, McCoy and Mike Tolbert, totaled 15 yards on 14 rushing attempts. The Bills are almost never going to win a game when something like that happens, which is why it was so amazing that they had a chance to pull it out on the final possession.
► Injuries: Marcell Dareus missed a portion of the first half with an ankle injury, but he did return. Left tackle Cordy Glenn sat out the second half after reinjuring his bothersome foot. McCoy was bothered by his sore wrist and groin, and he left the game briefly when he aggravated the wrist. Shaq Lawson had some discomfort in his feet after the game, but said he was fine. Kyle Williams was sporting a black eye which occurred on a play in the first half.