CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills' 9-3 loss against the Carolina Panthers worked out:
1. Cam Newton is going to play much better than he did in the Panthers' season-opening win against San Francisco. Wow! This wasn't even close. Give the Bills' defense plenty of credit for that. They sacked Newton six times for minus-50 yards and generally stifled him and the rest of the Panthers' offense, which managed only three field goals. He was forced to run for his life, gaining 27 yards on five carries. Two of his scrambles did result in first downs.
But Sean McDermott, who spent the past six years as the Panthers' defensive coordinator, made the most of the considerable intel he had on Newton and Carolina's offense as a whole. The rust Newton accumulated from being limited to only one preseason series after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery was every bit as apparent Sunday as it was a week ago at San Francisco.
If you didn't know better, you'd swear the Bills were facing similar version of Josh McCown, the quarterback they saw in their season-opening victory against the New York Jets. Newton is supposed to be one of the best QBs in the league, but he hardly looked like that Sunday.
2. As strong as the Bills' run defense played against the Jets, it's going to have to play even better against the Panthers. Check. The Bills limited the Panthers to only 77 yards on 28 carries, an average of only 2.8 yards per rush. This had plenty to do with the extreme pressure the Bills were able to apply to Newton.
The Bills were stout in the middle, with Kyle Williams and the rest of the line consistently clogging lanes at the line of scrimmage and the linebackers quickly coming up to fill gaps. Marcell Dareus, who missed a chunk of the game while dealing with an ankle issue, managed to be credited with only one assisted tackle after failing to make the stat sheet a week ago. Still, the group effort was impressive for the second game in a row.
3. The Bills' running game is more than capable of back-to-back strong rushing performances. Again, wow! Again, not even close. LeSean McCoy went from running through and around the Jets to hitting a figurative brick wall in the form of the Panthers' defensive front. He finished with one of the worst rushing performances of his nine NFL seasons with nine yards on 12 carries, an average of 0.8 yards per attempt. It makes you wonder whether McCoy's groin soreness, which Sean McDermott revealed Friday but insisted was separate from the decision to give him a "rest day," was more serious than the coach let on.
For the record, McCoy's name didn't appear on the injury report, but he was listed as missing practice because of the sore groin and wrist injury he suffered near the end of the Jets' game.
Mike Tolbert, who had an impressive Bills debut last week, managed only five yards on three carries. Had it not been for Tyrod Taylor's 55 yards on eight runs (an average 6.9 yards per carry), the Bills wouldn't have had any thing resembling a ground game. It was more of an underground game.
McDermott wasn't kidding when he called the Panthers' Kawann Short one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Short, linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, and the rest of Carolina's front seven consistently won its battles against the Bills' overmatched offensive line.
4. Tyrod Taylor has to get rid of the ball more quickly when working from the pocket, and the Bills need to move him around more while increasing his targets to the receivers. Neither Taylor nor anyone else in the Bills' passing game did much of anything. The receivers couldn't get separation, and Taylor spent the bulk of the game holding onto the ball waiting for open targets that he rarely found. This game was the disaster for which the Bills set themselves up by getting rid of the only threat they had to stretch defenses, Sammy Watkins, without a legitimate plan to replace that role.
5. Can the student, Sean McDermott, school the teacher, Ron Rivera? He came close. You had to admire the plan his defense used to render Newton mostly ineffective as a passer while also keeping the Panthers' running game in check. However, for as much expertise as McDermott had when it came to the Panthers' defense, the Bills' offense didn't benefit in the least.