1 – Pass rush is alive and wellThe Bills had just one sack last week against the Jets, as New York went to an exclusive three-step passing game to neutralize Buffalo's pass rush. The front four still put heat on the quarterback, but on Sunday in Carolina they got home.
Six times the Bills pass rush got to Cam Newton for a takedown. Jerry Hughes paced the defense with a pair of sacks. Lorenzo Alexander, Shaq Lawson, Eddie Yarbrough and Jordan Poyer accounted for the rest of the tackles on Newton behind the line of scrimmage.
"We got a lot of pressure," said Alexander. "(Number) one (Newton) is special. I don't know how much he weighs, but 6-5 and 230 or 240. You've got to really try to wrap him up or try to get the ball out. But he extended a lot of plays and made some plays with his arm. Threw it in there like I knew he would because he's a competitor regardless of his shoulder."
Buffalo also had a total of seven quarterback hits as Newton was moved off the spot with regularity, but he still completed 61 percent of his passes.
What was encouraging was the Bills didn't resort to the blitz too much to get pressure, with Poyer the only player in the back seven on defense to sack Newton.
"We felt good about our matchups up front and getting pressure on the quarterback," said head coach Sean McDermott. "We did some things coverage-wise. I thought the pressure was there. That works together with the coverage so it was good complementary football as far as that went."
As encouraged as the defenders were about six sacks they were disappointed they weren't able to take their pass rushing efforts a step further.
"We want the 'W,'" said Alexander. "I know everybody would sacrifice their individual stats to come away with a win. So, we've got to figure a way to take it a step further. Whether it's getting the ball out on the sack because a sack is just a tackle for loss. We have to figure out how to get it out when we get there or get an interception and hold onto the ball."
2 – Poyer a goal line guardianHe had another stellar performance Sunday at Carolina. Bills safety Jordan Poyer led the team with 11 tackles and he had a sack. But the best part of his game Sunday were his exploits in coverage.
Poyer led the team with three pass breakups, two of which came in the end zone to foil touchdown passes.
The first came on the Panthers opening drive. Facing a 2nd-and-6 at the Bills 16-yard line Cam Newton saw that Kelvin Benjamin had inside leverage on Tre'Davious White en route to the end zone. Newton put the ball right in Benjamin's path on a post pattern, but as he tried to pull the ball in, Poyer also arrived and drilled the receiver knocking the ball loose.
Benjamin was shaken up on the blistering hit and was escorted to the sidelines a few minutes after the play. Two plays later Carolina ultimately settled for a field goal.
Poyer's best play of the day came on a 3rd-and-goal from the Bills 10-yard line. Again, Newton had a receiver open as Russell Shepard get behind his defender a yard inside the end zone.
Carolina's quarterback put the ball high over the cornerback on the play, but at the last second, Poyer leapt to knock the ball away for an incompletion just a few feet before Shepard could get his hands on the pass. It thwarted another sure touchdown.
"We just kept playing," said Poyer. "We stuck to the game plan, and we kept playing hard. We always preach when we get in the red zone, make them kick the ball. That's what we did."
The play kept it a one-score game as the Panthers again had to take a field goal, and just a 6-0 lead late in the first half.
"The goal line stops that we had, those were huge," said Micah Hyde in reference to his fellow safety. "Holding them to three points instead of six, and getting the ball back to our offense. That was huge."
Poyer's all-around play is making him look like an early free agent steal this season.
3 – Strong locker room props up a dejected Zay JonesWith 14 seconds left on the clock, the Bills still had a timeout, so it might not have been the last play of the game had Buffalo been able to get a first down or even better, a game-winning touchdown. On 4th-and-11 at the Carolina 33, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison had a good play dialed up.
Expecting quarters coverage from the Panthers, Dennison called for LeSean McCoy to take a route out of the backfield and pull the corner near the sideline up enough to give Zay Jones enough space in the back right corner to make a play with the safety unable to get to him in time from the middle of the field.
"They had been playing a bunch of cover fours with the corners off and try to make Shady pick up the down and distance in front of the corner," said Tyrod Taylor. (We tried to) get a one-on-one throw with the safety. I was able to hold the safety, but we just weren't able to make the play."
The corner did cheat up a bit when McCoy flooded the zone in front of him. When Zay Jones saw that happen he turned outside. But Taylor had held the safety in the middle of the field with his eyes and threw a pass to Jones' inside shoulder so the outside corner did not have a chance to double back and make a play on the ball had he thrown it to Jones' outside shoulder.
Jones tried to make the adjustment, but the ball got to him too fast for him. Despite his best effort to leap and fully extend for the ball, he couldn't hang onto it and it fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.
The rookie receiver was dejected after the play and the game.
"I think it was a pretty well thrown ball. A perfect play to beat the coverage. I just didn't make the catch. It just didn't bounce my way," said Jones. "It's very tough, especially because of the guys in this locker room. I play my heart out for them and absolutely love (them). It's really difficult. I let my team down. I didn't get the job done."
Taylor was one of the first players to speak to Jones after the failed fourth down play.
"He's a young player," said Taylor. "There's a lot being asked of him, but there are some plays that are going to be made and not going to be made. The main thing is you've just got to learn from it and continue to move forward. Don't let it hinder him moving forward. Learn to brush it off.
"As a team, we have his back. The game didn't boil down to that. Would it have helped? Yes, but there were other plays out there that I didn't make, as a team we didn't make. As a team moving forward we have to learn from it."
Taylor wouldn't say who was at fault on the play.
Several other teammates also tried to prop Jones up after the game.
"It meant a lot to me," said Jones. "These are my guys. I love them to death. So, it meant a lot to me."
Check out photos of the 2017 Buffalo Bills playing the Carolina Panthers.