Bills’ Escape Carolina with Win over Panthers, 20-18

Sammy Watkins 940Buffalo made signs of progress, but were seemingly on the brink of self-destruction before they finally took advantage of an opportunity.

A game that included the Bills’ offense moving up and down the field but not finishing drives, dropped interceptions and third-down issues on defense, and execution issues in the redzone on both sides ended with safety Jonathan Meeks intercepting a deflected ball in the final minute to seal the victory.

There was more time, yards, and moments of brilliance for the Bills first-team offense compared to Sunday, but not any more points.

On three possessions, Buffalo’s first-teamers gained 136 yards and got into the redzone twice, but just like against the Giants, only got a field goal to show for it. A 10 play, 78 yard drive that included E.J. Manuel going 4 for 4 for 53 yards went all for not, as Fred Jackson failed to gain a yard on both 3rd and 4th and 1, and the Bills gave the ball back to the Panthers.

After the defense forced a three-out, Buffalo’s offense got great field-position, and got to as far as the 16 yard line before settling for a 36 yard Dan Carpenter field goal. But then the Panthers’ first-team offense, quarterbacked by Derek Anderson with Cam Newton sitting out, answered.

Anderson converted a pair of third downs on the ground, and finished a 10 play, 82 yard drive with a 29 yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who beat cornerback Stephon Gilmore and dove for the ball in the end zone. The score was the first points the Bills’ first-team defense had allowed all preseason, with a missed extra point making it 6-3 with 14:54 left in the second quarter.

The Bills got a pair of first-downs on the next possession, including a leaping 28 yard catch by receiver Mike Williams, but a holding penalty by Lee Smith put the Bills at 2nd and 20 at Carolina’s 48, stalling the drive and leading to a punt, ending the first-team’s night.

Sammy Watkins hauled in the first three passes of his NFL career for a total of 21 yards, while Robert Woods brought a great week of practice into tonight’s game with four  grabs for 31 yards. A 32 yard wheel route catch for Chris Hogan, along with an 11 yarder later gave him two catches for 43 yards, continuing a great training camp for the third-year receiver who has made his case to be the team’s designated slot receiver.

After a possession for both teams, defensive end Jairus Wynn sacked Matt Blanchard, forcing a fumble that was recovered at the Panthers’ 28 yard line. Bryce Brown took two runs for first downs and 25 yards, and Anthony Dixon finished the drive with two carries for the final three yards and a score, making it 10-3 with four minutes left in the first half.

In the final minute of the second quarter, safety Da’Norris Searcy intercepted Blanchard and took the ball inside Carolina’s 40 yard line. A first down throw from Thaddeus Lewis to Chris Hogan put Carpenter in position to make a 42 yard field goal, making it 13-6 at halftime.

A scoreless third quarter included Jeff Tuel throwing an interception in the end zone to Josh Norman. Both Lewis and Tuel have thrown an interception when they’ve played as the third quarterback in a preseason game thus far.

Late in the third and early in the fourth, the Panthers went on another long drive, this time with quarterback Joe Webb. Webb found receiver Tavarres King four times for 50 yards, and running back Darrin Reaves ran it in from 5 yards out, but an incomplete two-point conversion pass still left Carolina behind, 13-12.

Buffalo’s offense helped extend the slim lead, as the Brown and Dixon combination continued to damage in the run game. Brown again ran twice for 25 yards and two first downs, and Dixon ran six times for 22 yards, with Tuel converting a fourth-and-1 with a touchdown pass to rookie receiver Chris Summers, making it 20-12 with just under six minutes left.

Carolina appeared to have one opportunity to tie the game. A potential game-ending interception of Webb was dropped by undrafted rookie safety Jajuan Harley, and a holding penalty by cornerback Michael Carter on fourth and 10 giave the Panthers a first down at Buffalo’s 31.

On third down and 10, Webb found receiver Brandon Williams down the middle of the field for a 31 yard touchdown, but Webb’s pass for Philly Brown on a two-point conversion attempt was short and incomplete.

An onside kick attempt appeared to be caught by Bills receiver Naaman Roosevelt, but he muffed it, with Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs recovering the ball. Carolina got to the Bills’ 42 yard line, but a ball that bounced off the chest of receiver Marcus Lucas was plucked out of the air by safety Johnathan Meeks to end the threat and the game.

Bryce Brown (11 carries for 64 yards) and Anthony Dixon (9 for 28 and a touchdown) showed their ability to bring a new dimension to the run game, and Bills’ quarterbacks were a combined 19-29 for 183 yards, a touchdown and interception. The defense forced three turnovers, but did allow four third-down conversions off of quarterback runs for Carolina, and allowed the Panthers to convert 10 of 17 third-downs despite playing their second, third, and fourth-string quarterbacks.



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