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Sean McDermott heading back to Carolina Panthers as Buffalo Bills coach

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Buffalo’s new coach faces a familiar foe Sunday

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

It’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla surrounding first-year Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott’s return to Carolina Sunday afternoon, when he leads the first-place Bills into enemy territory for a 1 p.m. showdown with the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

McDermott served as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator for six seasons, overseeing a unit that was annually one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL. But while McDermott, who was hired away from the Panthers eight months ago to lead the new-look Bills, is responsible for preparing Buffalo for this Week 2 challenge, he realizes that once the opening kickoff occurs, this is just like any other game on the schedule.

“I’m not out there playing, so that’s hard to say, ‘an advantage,’” McDermott said when asked if his team could benefit from what McDermott learned during his time with Carolina. “We’ve got to put in our time and earn the right to win, which we plan on doing. I’m aware of strengths and weaknesses, that’s the part that’s there. (But) the players will be on the field making the plays. It’s about us growing as a football team and making the trip down there.”

McDermott doesn’t think his team will need to use this homecoming as added motivation. Part of McDermott’s coaching process is to tackle each game and each opponent as it comes, without bringing personal emotions into the game-planning.

“This team doesn't need to win for me,” McDermott said. “I would never want them to win a game specifically for the coach."

During his time as Carolina’s defensive coordinator, his teams finished in the top 10 for total defense four times (from 2012-2015) before ranking 21st in 2016.

“I really appreciate the time that I spent there,” McDermott said of Carolina during a Monday press conference. “There are great people around that organization, and it’ll be a huge challenge for us to go down there. It’s their home opener. But I also know the work we have to put in this week, so that’s where my focus really is right now.”

Here are some highlights of McDermott’s tenure in Carolina:

  • 2015: Carolina ranked sixth in total defense, with a fourth-ranked run defense (88.4 yards per game). The Panthers led the league in interceptions (24), and were sixth in both points allowed (19.2 points per game) and sacks (44). Carolina won its first 14 games and breezed to the NFC South championship. The Panthers advanced into Super Bowl 50 before falling to the Denver Broncos, 24-10.
  • 2014: Carolina managed to rank 10th in total defense despite losing several key members of the defense: S Mike Mitchell, CB Captain Munnerlyn, and DE Greg Hardy, who only appeared in one game due to a domestic violence issue. Despite the roster turnover, the Panthers went 7-8-1, won the NFC South championship and won a Wild Card game before falling to the Seattle Seahawks.
  • 2013: Led by LB’s Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, along with Munnerlyn, Mitchell, Hardy, SS Quintin Mikell, and DE Charles Johnson, this was the best defense of McDermott’s Carolina tenure. The Panthers finished second in total defense (301.2 yards/game), second against the run (86.9 yards/game), and were second in points allowed (15.1 points/game). Carolina led the league in sacks (60) and was fifth in interceptions (20) en route to a 12-4 record and an NFC South championship.
  • 2012: The Panthers finished 10th in total defense (333.1 yards/game) and ninth in sacks (39) despite a 7-9 record.

McDermott won’t be the only member of the Bills making a homecoming Sunday. First-year General Manager Brandon Beane, a native of Stanly County, N.C., an hour outside of Charlotte, jump-started his NFL career with the Panthers (19 years) before Buffalo hired him in May.

On the field, RB Mike Tolbert, QB Joe Webb, and CB Leonard Johnson were members of the 2016 Panthers.