By David Rogers. August 16, 2019. CHARLOTTE, NC — Whether you go by final score or passer ratings, the visiting Buffalo Bills defeated the Carolina Panthers in their second preseason football game Friday night.
COVER IMAGE: Panthers QB Kyle Allen was frequently under pressure from the Buffalo defensive front. Here, the Bills’s defensive end Mike Love shows little affection for Carolina’s QB, who is battling for the backup job with rookie Will Grier and veteran Taylor Heinicke. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Buffalo starting quarterback Josh Allen and backup Matt Barkley both looked sharp in guiding the Bills to a 27-14 win over the Panthers in Bank of America Stadium.
Allen, who completed an efficient 9-of-11 passes for 102 yards, led Buffalo’s opening drive that kept Carolina’s offense off the field for almost seven minutes (6:49) of the first quarter with a 13-play drive that covered 63 yards before veteran placekicker Stephen Hauschka slotted 30-yard field goal. It may only have vaulted Buffalo to a 3-point early lead, but it was something to build on — and they did.
After the Bills’ defense held Carolina’s opening offensive possession to a three-and-out, Buffalo punt returner Andre Roberts gave the visitors good field position with a 37-yard return. From there, Allen engineered a 5-play, 35-yard series that ended with LeSean McCoy punching into the end zone from one yard out.
Allen only played the first quarter, but his two offensive series featured mostly short timing pass completions to wide receiver Cole Beasley, and a couple of longer aerials to tight end Tommy Sweeney (22 and 25 yards).
Barkley picked up where Allen left off in Buffalo’s first offensive series after the Panthers failed to convert a first down on 4th-and-2, from the Bills 18, to open the period. A former Pac-12 star at USC, Barkley leaned heavily on rookie running back Devin Singletary to guide the Bills a little more than 40 yards before the drive stalled at the Carolina 32. Hauschka’s 48-yard field goal attempt was wide right.
Midway through the second quarter, rookie QB Will Grier took the quarterback reins for the Panthers. An offensive holding penalty on the first play of the series doubled the yardage needed for a first down (1st-and-20). He recovered 14 of those on a nice pass over the middle to rookie running back out of Florida, Jordan Scarlett, but then promptly hurled an interception to Bills cornerback Kevin Johnson, who returned the ball 70 yards for a “pick 6” TD.
Grier seemed to settle down and led the Panthers offense 53 yards on 14 plays, but Buffalo’s defense stiffened and held Carolina to just a field goal, a 40-yarder by rookie Joey Slye that narrowed the Panthers’ deficit to 17-3.
With under two minutes to go in the half, however, Barkley picked up gridiron real estate in big chunks with completions to Isaiah McKenzie (37 yards) and T.J. Yeldon (10 yards) before tossing a 9-yard TD to 2nd-year wide receiver Duke Williams, out of Auburn, to expand the Bills’ lead to 24-3.
With just 26 seconds left in the half to work with, Grier engineered a 4-play, 33-yard drive that ended with a 54-yard field goal by Slye — and the ball crossed over the uprights with room to spare.
Much of the second half can be characterized as “sloppy” play, including 10 penalties, five by each team. Taylor Heinicke, now a 4th-year veteran QB who played his college ball at Old Dominion, took over the QB duties from Grier late in the third quarter. In the final stanza, he connected with Arizona State alum Rashad Ross for a 9-yard TD over the middle. While in cleanup time vs. mostly Bills rookies and reserves, Heinicke finished his brief stage time with 8-of-12 passing, including the one TD. For the game, he was the only QB the Panthers used (starter Cam Newton was again held out) who had a quarterback rating in three digits, at 112.5.
By contrast, both Allen and Barkley had respectable nights behind center for Buffalo, with 105.3 and 145.8 QB ratings, respectively.
Afterward, former Panthers defensive coordinator and now Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott gave a lot of credit to Josh Allen’s work ethic in preparing for the season, as well as the experience that the second-year pro out of Wyoming gained last season.
“(It) looked like the game slowed down (for Allen) this week,” noted McDermott, and that’s good to see. I’ve said this before: whether it’s a quarterback in this case or (a player at) another position, a young player that continues to grow and the game slows down for them…that’s a good thing.”
Conceding that the Allen-to-Beasley connection paid good dividends early, McDermott said, “We’ve got to take what the defense gives us, whether in terms of match-ups or schemes. That continues to show Josh’s development. It comes from his hard work…Matt (Barkley) also had a good night. When you practice a certain way, those habits transfer over to the game.”
McDermott was also quick to point out that his charges seemed to win the battles in the “trenches”, in both the offensive and defensive lines.
“I thought line-of-scrimmage-wise we did a good job,” McDermott told reporters. “We were active upfront on the defensive front and I thought the offensive line did a good job of establishing the line of scrimmage in the game, whether it’s run or pass. That’s important to our success. We got our hands up on defense and on a couple of balls, so (that is) good to see. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
Carolina has been beset by offensive line woes the last couple of years and while the new first-team unit gave up too many sacks vs. Buffalo, Carolina head coach Ron Rivera remained optimistic that the unit can “gel.”
“This was their first game together as a group,” Rivera, now in his ninth season as the Panthers’ head coach, pointed out, “so we got an opportunity to really watch those guys. We get (another) opportunity next week (@ the New England Patriots) as we go forward. There are a lot of things that need to be worked out. I do like the situation, though, because we will play our starting quarterback next week. We will start with Christian (McCaffrey) out there. We will have Greg (Olsen) out there. It will be interesting to see exactly where we are.”
On Thursday night (August 22nd, 7:30 pm), the Panthers will take their 1-1 preseason record into Gillete Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts to face the defending Super Boal champion, the New England Patriots.