With 2017 in the books following a fairly surprising playoff berth, we look back at the season and our beloved Buffalo Bills. Every week is a story and we bring this to you through the lens of key plays that defined the game. Your week two match-up:
Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers
Following a surprisingly effective showing against the New York Jets the week before, rumors of the “tank” had started to cool for the Buffalo Bills. Conversely, a shaky performance from Cam Newton in Week one had prompted early cries of his demise. While the national media used the Week two tilt against the Bills to continue this narrative, it was spectacular play after spectacular play by an up and coming Buffalo defense that led to a humble 255 yards of total offense by Carolina.
Unable to effectively move the ball, Carolina clung on all game and eked out a paltry nine points despite over 38 minutes in time of possession. Not to be outdone, Buffalo elected to completely avoid any sort of offensive rhythm, managing an embarrassing 176 yards on the day with only 3 points to show for it. And even the 3 points needed a little help as Stephen Hauschka’s kick bounced off the upright on its way through.
Jerry Hughes takes down Cam Newton for a 10-yard sack (Q2, 13:40)
Early in the second quarter, Carolina had driven down to the Buffalo 22, looking to extend their lead. As Cam Newton dropped back on 2nd and 9 he stepped back to avoid a shrinking pocket courtesy of Kyle Williams. Jerry Hughes had been left one-on-one and came in off the blind side. Hughes swallowed up Newton for a loss of ten. Hughes’ sack caused an obvious passing situation and Eddie Yarbrough was able to take advantage with a sack of his own, pushing the Panthers out of field goal range.
In a disappointing season rushing the passer, the Bills were exceedingly effective against one of the more elusive QBs in the league. More than 20% of the 2017 sacks came from this game (six of 27). Lorenzo Alexander, Shaq Lawson, and Jordan Poyer also got in on the action, but it was Hughes (2 sacks, 4 tackles and 2 assists) who had the most impact. Hughes spent most of his day in the Panthers backfield terrorizing Cam Newton.
Jordan Poyer prevents a TD (Q2, 2:11)
Toward the end of the first half, the Panthers found themselves in scoring position for the third time. On 3rd and goal at the Buffalo 10-yard line, Cam Newton was looking for six points with a pass toward Russell Shepard. Newton managed to get the ball past Leonard Johnson in a fairly small window. Jordan Poyer recognized the play and nearly did the receiver’s job for him. The pass break up forced the Panthers to go for a field goal and kept this game much tighter than it had any right to be.
This was actually Poyer’s second pass break up to deny a TD, with the first coming against Kelvin Benjamin in the first quarter. Poyer had a monster game. In addition to his clutch red zone performance and the aforementioned sack he added 7 tackles and 4 assists to his stat line. Poyer eased many fans worries with a statement performance.
Shaq Lawson tackle for loss (Q4, 4:06)
With the Panthers ahead 6-3 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Bills were desperately trying to keep Carolina out of the end zone. An ill-timed pass interference penalty on E.J. Gaines put the Panthers at the 1-yard line with some free downs to boot. Jonathan Stewart had been kept in check all day, but looked to use his 235-pound frame to bulldoze through the middle. The Buffalo d-line had arguably their best day of the season and looked to have Stewart primed to drop around the line of scrimmage. Shaq Lawson was left unchecked on the edge and made the push from the line irrelevant as he engulfed Stewart for a loss.
This breathing room helped the Bills to make two more stops to limit the damage to a third field goal. With only a 6-point lead and plenty of time for one drive, the Bills were in position to mount their comeback.
Tyrod Taylor and Zay Jones can’t connect (Q4, 0:14)
This has gotta be the play you expected to read about when you came in, but it’s not the one that defined the offense in Charlotte, North Carolina. This thoroughly discussed incomplete pass was pivotal but merely served as an exclamation point on the day.
Failed fourth down conversion on a strange play call (Q3, 12:39)
Nope, too many things went well on that drive and pass for it to really tell the story here. In a game where the offense failed to reach Carolina territory until the third quarter (and that was only to the 44 before punting) and the run-first strategy barely broke 20 minutes of possession, we need a play that wholly represents the futility of the day.
The defining moment came with 12:39 on the clock in the third quarter. Two plays before this, Taylor scrambled to the Carolina 44 to set up 3rd and 1. An incomplete pass on the next play (drop by Patrick DiMarco) sets up our defining moment beautifully. A Buffalo offense, desperate to make something happen, went for it on 4th and 1.
The play itself has a lot to hate. Rather than a QB keeper or hand off to McCoy, the Bills dialed up a pitch to McCoy several yards behind the line of scrimmage. This extended hand off allowed two Carolina defenders to easily diagnose the play develop and move into position to make the stop. McCoy initially headed toward the edge and still had a chance to get the first down. Shady tried to cut it back inside where he was dropped for a loss of 1. Poor decisions, poor execution, and poor results fully embody a day in which the Buffalo offense probably should have stayed in bed.