Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: F
Yes, you read that right. The league's top rushing offense for two years straight was straight-up stopped dead in its tracks Sunday. LeSean McCoy had 12 carries for 9 yards. Backup Mike Tolbert carried three times for 5 yards. Tyrod Taylor's 55 yards on eight carries – some from scrambles, some on designed runs – made the overall numbers look semi-respectable, but make no mistake: this was a disaster on the ground.
PASSING GAME: F
Downright unwatchable at times. Taylor completed three passes to receivers in the first 57-plus minutes of the game. The lack of a No. 1 option for the passing game is a gigantic problem. When there was separation, Taylor was off the mark just enough to make catches harder than they needed to be. His receivers didn't bail him out in those situations. Tight end Charles Clay had a minimal impact with three catches for 23 yards.
RUN DEFENSE: A-
Once again, the Bills held an opponent to less than 3.0 yards per carry. That's even more impressive considering defensive tackle Marcell Dareus played an unofficial 16 snaps after suffering an ankle injury. Cornerback Tre'Davious White had a pair of tackles for loss, as did linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Tackling again was strong, just like in Week One. Dareus made one assisted tackle, his first stat of 2017.
PASS DEFENSE: B
The pass rush got to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton twice on the game's opening drive, but both Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes weren't able to wrap him up, leading to big runs. Consider it a lesson learned, though, as the Bills went on to sack Newton six times. There were holes in the secondary over the middle too often in the first half, but that also got better as the game went on. Safety Jordan Poyer had another big game with a sack and three passes defensed, although he lamented missing out on an interception in the first quarter that might have gone back for a touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
It went in, but Stephen Hauschka looked shaky when he banked in a 45-yard field goal off the right upright. That can't inspire a lot of confidence from his coaching staff. Punter Colton Schmidt had a fine day, averaging 44.5 net yards on six punts, two of which were inside Carolina's 20-yard line. Trae Elston took a holding penalty, and looked like he got away with another one. The punt coverage team allowed 30 yards on those six punts. Punt returner Kaelin Clay fumbled and was lucky Shareece Wright was able to jump on it for a recovery.
This one must sting for Sean McDermott. He should have used a timeout after Taylor scrambled for 4 yards with less than a minute left. That play started with 53 seconds left, and the Bills didn't run the next snap until there was 30 seconds remaining. The team ended up not using one of its timeouts. Credit to McDermott for going for it on fourth and 1, even if the play call – a pitch wide to McCoy – wasn't the right one. It sent the message the best running team in the league with 250-pound bruiser Mike Tolbert in the backfield wasn't confident it could gain 1 yard going straight ahead. The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for having the team not far enough back on the sideline and making contact with an official is a sloppy mistake.
Grading the Panthers
RUNNING GAME: D
I'm still trying to understand what all the hype is about when it comes to first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey. He carried eight times for 10 yards and didn't look like he has the type of game-changing speed that will scare defensive coordinators. Jonathan Stewart had a pedestrian 40 yards on 15 carries. Newton gained 27 yards on five rushes. His first two rushes went for 25 yards, while his final three produced just 2.
PASSING GAME: C
Towering wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess combined for 10 catches and 145 yards. They don't have elite speed, but are good at going over the middle and finding holes in zone coverage. McCaffrey did have one pretty catch along the sideline for a gain of 14 yards. Losing tight end Greg Olsen to a broken foot will be a tough blow going forward. If the goal for Newton is to stop taking so many big hits, he needs to get rid of the ball sooner.
RUN DEFENSE: A
The hype about Carolina's front seven is real. The Panthers bottled up McCoy like almost no team has done before. Defensive tackles Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei registered a combined six tackles. "We played the run really well," defensive end Julius Peppers said. No disagreement here.
PASS DEFENSE: B+
The story out of Buffalo is that nobody was getting open. Some credit needs to be given to the Panthers' secondary for that. A unit that was torched at times last season did a good job Sunday of locking up Buffalo's receivers. Peppers, even at 37, provided the pass rush with a pair of sacks. Taylor escaped from trouble a couple times and hurt Carolina on the ground, which knocks the grade down a bit.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Kicker Graham Gano was thought to be on the roster bubble this summer, but he went 3 for 3 on field goals and was booming the ball through the end zone for touchbacks. Punter Michael Palardy averaged 41.2 net yards on six punts, putting two inside the Bills' 20-yard line. The Panthers pinned the Bills on their own 2-yard line after one of Palardy's punts. The punt-coverage unit gave up just 2 yards on two attempts.
Is there a less deserving nickname ever given to a person than the one Ron Rivera has. The Panthers' coach is called "Riverboat" Ron for his supposed willingness to gamble, but the reality is he's exactly the same as any other NFL coach. Rivera punted on fourth and 1 from the Bills' 45-yard line, and elected to kick a field goal to go up 9-3 instead of trying for a touchdown that would have ended the game late in the fourth quarter. People will say that because the Bills didn't score that was the right call, but Rivera is far from revolutionizing how the game is coached. The Panthers blew a pair of timeouts early in the first half.
Story topics: Charles Clay/ Colton Schmidt/ Jerry Hughes/ Jordan Poyer/ Kaelin Clay/ LeSean McCoy/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Marcell Dareus/ Mike Tolbert/ Sean McDermott/ shareece wright/ Stephen Hauschka/ Tyrod Taylor