CHARLOTTE, N.C. – One of the main reasons Terry Pegula hired Sean McDermott was to repair a defense that had gone to pieces under Rex Ryan. Yes, the Bills were rebuilding and weren't expected to be a contender. But if McDermott got the defense playing at a high level, it would be a promising start to the new regime.
Well, after two weeks, things are off to an encouraging start. On Sunday, McDermott returned to Carolina, where he had run the defense for six years, and showed his former employer that he could transport his defensive methods as a head coach and at least restore the Buffalo D to respectability.
If the offense had held up its end of the bargain – or done virtually anything – McDermott would have come away from Charlotte with a rousing victory, one that made him the first Bills head coach ever to start 2-0.
The Buffalo defense held the Panthers to 256 total yards and harassed Cam Newton for much of the game. But the defensive effort went for naught. The Panthers' defense was better, limiting the Bills to just 176 total yards in an unsightly, if ultimately dramatic, 9-3 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
The Bills' offensive output was its worst since the opener last year at Baltimore, when they had 160 yards in a similar setback. Tyrod Taylor was 17-for-25 passing for 125 yards, with no completion of more than 15 yards.
Carolina's front ganged up on LeSean McCoy and held him to 12 yards on nine carries.
This game was reminiscent of the Bills' comeback win in Tennessee two years ago, when Taylor did nothing for much of the day but pulled out a late, 14 -13 victory with a dazzling scramble and a touchdown pass to Chris Hogan.
That day, the Bills were scoreless at the half and had 47 yards of offense. Taylor had one completion of more than 10 yards. At Carolina, they again went scoreless in the first half. This time, they amassed only 39 yards of offense and Taylor didn't have a single completion of 10 yards.
The Bills showed more life in the second half. The defense continued to pressure Newton, sacking him six times overall and forcing him into a number of bad throws. Taylor threw a little better in the second half, but that wasn't saying a lot. It's a low bar with Tyrod on the road.
But there were no heroics this time. The defense was terrific, but failed to do the one thing desperately needed to help the offense. They never took the ball away. The offense started too many drives deep in its own territory and didn't have any short fields on a day when they desperately needed it.
The Bills had one last gasp in the final two minutes. With Taylor making short throws to the sidelines, they drove to the Carolina 33 – their deepest penetration of the day – and had fourth-and-11 with 14 seconds left.
Taylor had rookie Zay Jones open near the goal-line down the right side, but Jones had to adjust to the ball and couldn't make the catch.