1. Davis delivers… again
A week after his inspiring performance against Tampa Bay, in relief of an injured Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis delivered for a second consecutive week. The second year wideout provided a 20-yard touchdown that put Buffalo firmly in control of their Week 15 matchup with Carolina late in the third quarter. He then added a clinching 14-yard score on a 4th-and-2 with two minutes left in regulation of Buffalo's 31-14 victory.
"I've got a lot of trust in him," said Josh Allen of Davis. "He continues to make plays. He's a strong physical dude that wants it. He wants the ball, and it's good to have those type of guys. You look at Stef (Diggs) and Cole (Beasley) and they want the ball in their hands, too. Unfortunately, there's only one of them, but guys are just doing their job. And at the end of the day, all we want to do is win games."
For Davis it was the first multi-touchdown game of his career. His six touchdowns this season put him third amongst the Bills receiving contingent on the season behind Stefon Diggs and Dawson Knox, who both have eight scoring plays on the season.
On his first touchdown reception, the Panthers showed cover zero, but dropped out of it. It forced Josh Allen to be patient and wait for a target to get open. Davis made himself available.
"For that one, he just kind of improvised that one," said Davis of Allen. "He kind of switched it up a little bit. I thought it was going to be open a little bit earlier, but it ended up not being. He had to scramble a little bit. He was hoping for a one-on-one throw up. He did it and I was able to make a play on it."
His second scoring play came when he faked a block and leaked out. Stephon Gilmore, who appeared to be assigned to cover him, lunged forward as Josh Allen rolled to the flat to prevent him from running for the first down. But it left Davis wide open for an easy touchdown.
The second-year receiver, who finished with five receptions for 85 yards, is very appreciative of getting his number called by Daboll in the red zone.
"It feels great because you have the whole team on your back and they trust you to make that play and they know the ball's coming to you," he said. "To be able to execute at a high level, there's nothing better than that."
Sunday was just the fourth game this season that Davis has seen more than 50 percent of the snaps. In every one of those games, Davis has either provided a touchdown or gone over 100 yards receiving.
"Another game where he showed up and was productive for us," said McDermott. "I love his mindset. He's big, he's strong, he's tough. And, again, mentally he was working while he was waiting, and I think you saw it again where he produced for us and made some big plays."
Davis now sits just one receiving touchdown below his rookie total of seven. He's currently ahead of his touchdowns per reception pace of last season. In 2020, he pulled in a touchdown pass on one of every five receptions. This season, he's scoring touchdowns once every 4.83 receptions.
2. 'D' gets fourth down stops
It was a solid defensive performance on Sunday for the Bills. Facing a Panthers offense led by Cam Newton, they may have surrendered some yards on the ground at times but were firm when it came to getting off the field. The only difference was more often than not they had to get fourth down stops to do so.
The Carolina offense made a conscious decision to go for it on most of their fourth down situations, especially when they were in field goal range. Field goal attempts weren't an option after K Zane Gonzalez went down with a kicking leg injury in pre-game warmups.
"We were told in pregame something happened to their kicker," said Micah Hyde. "So, we knew third down situations, third and long, they might possibly try to cut it in half or make it a fourth down and manageable. So, we knew there would be a bunch of fourth downs. We went out there and tried to limit them."
Buffalo's defense proved up to the task. Carolina came into the game with a better than 53 percent success rate on fourth down conversions. On Sunday against the Bills however, they managed to convert just one of their five fourth down go-for-it situations (20%).
"First, we had the mindset that we had to treat third down like second down," said Bills DT Harrison Phillips. "There could be heavy run knowing that they're going to go back to a fourth down play anytime they cross the 50 yard-line. But really, just great team defense. Guys coming up making plays. Guys doing the right thing, rush and coverage working together. So that was definitely a huge part in this victory."
The first turnover on downs came on a 4th-and-9 at the Bills 24-yard line. Buffalo sent a zero blitz, which forced a hurried and inaccurate throw from Cam Newton that was intended for Willie Snead.
Two possessions later, Carolina was in a 4th-and-1 situation at midfield, but Newton's pass to Robby Anderson in the flat was more reminiscent of a basketball bounce pass and went incomplete.
Buffalo's defense wouldn't face another fourth down situation until the fourth quarter. Deep in their own territory at their 24-yard line, Buffalo had to stop Carolina on a 4th-and-5. Jerry Hughes got good penetration on a bull rush and rose up to tip the pass as Newton tried to deliver it to DJ Moore and it fell incomplete.
The final turnover on downs came with just over six minutes left in regulation. Facing a 4th-and-10 at the Buffalo 46, Newton hesitated after dropping back. The Bills coverage on the back end was sound allowing Efe Obada to get to Newton for his second sack in three plays.
"Just trying to do my job, beat my guy," Obada said. "Came around the edge on the second one. The first one, just hit the B-gap, and he was right there, just still holding the ball. Just great effort from our coverage, and it just allowed me to get there."
Buffalo's fourth down defense came into the game ranked fourth in the league allowing conversions at a rate of 41 percent. That figure will be dropping even further after Sunday's performance.
3. Singletary sees most work of season
There has rarely been an opportunity for any of Buffalo's running backs to get into any kind of rhythm during the season. With an understandable propensity to lean on Josh Allen's arm and the passing game, the Bills backs are often rotated series to series.
Devin Singletary has seen the most work out of the backfield this season, but his high for carries coming into Sunday's game was 15 in the blowout win against New Orleans. Against Carolina he'd see his most extensive work of the season with 22 carries.
Singletary's rushing totals weren't eye popping, but the third-year back was effective enough in keeping Buffalo's offense on schedule in terms of down and distance rolling up a season high 86 yards.
"Motor was great, breaking tackles, extending runs," said Spencer Brown. "I think the O-line covered the ball well, getting extra yards after the end of the runs. The effort and execution were better. I look forward to the next week for sure."
Singletary got off to a good start as he gained 37 yards on his first seven carries to average better than five yards per rush in the first half. His longest carry of 16 yards went for a touchdown to give Buffalo its first touchdown of the game. It was the team's first rushing touchdown by a back since his Week 10 touchdown run against the Jets.
"It was like a pin-and-pull play," Singletary said. "I got my pullers all in front of me. My O-line basically cleared it out for me, and I had a lane. I know I just had to beat the safety and I was able to do that."
Singletary's longest carry in the second half was just 12 yards, but only once in the entire game did, he have a carry that went for loss.
"There were times where his momentum got stopped, but his pistons kept pumping," said McDermott. "He just kept churning those legs and got another two, three, four yards out of it sometimes. It's fun to watch when he does that."
McDermott was also pleased with the way offensive coordinator Brian Daboll mixed up the play calls. So too was Josh Allen as it kept Carolina's fast-flowing and athletic defensive front from teeing off on him in the pocket.
"When you've got guys that get off the ball really fast trying to get their hands down, tired, eyes in the backfield, some zone reads, some RPOs. Just forcing them to think about different things instead of just pinning their ears back and trying to speed rush," said Allen. "So, it was good to see 'Motor' go out there and run hard. He ran really well. But again, it starts with the guys up front and doing their job. And 'Motor' did a good job of finding the holes and getting extra yards for us."