Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bills 20, Panthers 18

An improbable touchdown catch by rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and a late comeback weren't enough to push the Panthers past the Buffalo Bills in the preseason opener Friday at Bank of America Stadium.

After linebacker Ben Jacobs recovered an onside kick, quarterback Joe Webb's pass for Marcus Lucas went off the wide receiver's hands and was intercepted by Jonathan Meeks with 53 seconds remaining to seal a 20-18 defeat.

"We have a lot of things to improve on, but this is really good tape," head coach Ron Rivera said. "When we watch this tape we are going to pick up some really good things."

Quarterback Cam Newton was a spectator Friday as the team elected to hold out the star quarterback for precautionary reasons. The team also chose to rest running back DeAngelo Williams.

"(Cam) is right on track," Rivera said. "There is a good opportunity for him to play this coming week."

Said Newton: "It's about my progression. There's a plan that's in place for me to get back. Do I want to be out there? Absolutely I do. That's just the competitive PERSON in me. But I have to be smart."

On the first series of the game, the Bills drove deep into Carolina territory but were turned away at the goal line.

Running back Fred Jackson was stopped for no gain on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and he was stuffed by cornerback Charles Godfrey and linebacker Chase Blackburn for no gain on fourth down.

"We say it all the time – it doesn't matter where you put the ball, they are not getting in," Godfrey said. "That's our culture. That's what we're made of on defense."

After a Carolina three-and-out, Dan Carpenter put the Bills ahead with a 19-yard field goal, but the Panthers answered on the ensuing possession.

Quarterback Derek Anderson scrambled for two first downs and connected with three different receivers (tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery) to set up first down from the Bills' 29-yard line to start the second quarter.

That's when Anderson lofted a deep pass down the sideline for rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who got his feet tangled and stumbled, yet still managed to secure the touchdown catch as he fell in the end zone.

"The whole time I was stumbling I kept my eyes on the ball and followed it all the way to the ground," Benjamin said. "In a split second I just stuck my arms up between the ball and the ground and I caught it. It was crazy."

Jordan Gay, kicking in place of the injured Graham Gano, missed the 33-yard extra point, and the Panthers led 6-3.

Anderson, who finished 5-of-7 for 65 yards, played one more series before making way for Matt Blanchard.

Carolina's starting offensive line, minus center Ryan Kalil, played until halftime. Offensive tackle Nate Chandler and rookie guard Trai Turner got some extended work beyond that.

Overall, Rivera was pleased with the job the offensive line did keeping Anderson clean.

"We were very, very pleased with what we got from the offensive line," Rivera said. "I'd like to see us run block a little bit better, but they were very physical, very aggressive."

Said Byron Bell, who started at left tackle: "We battled. It was good to get the first one out of the way. I felt passing-wise we were solid up front. We just have to keep working and we'll be fine."

Following a lost fumble by Blanchard, running back Anthony Dixon scored a 1-yard touchdown to give the Bills a 10-6 lead with 4:04 remaining in the second quarter.

Another Carolina turnover led to more points by the opposition. Blanchard overthrew wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, and safety Da'Norris Searcy intercepted the pass and returned it 15 yards to the Carolina 38 with 41 seconds left in the half.

Carpenter converted a 42-yard field goal in the closing seconds to give Buffalo a 13-6 halftime advantage.

Joe Webb took over at quarterback for Carolina in the second half and brought some rhythm to the offense. He completed 16-of-28 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown and also led the Panthers in rushing with 30 yards on four carries.

"Joe Webb gave us a little bit of a lift and gave us a CHANCE TO WIN," Rivera said.

Rookie running back Darrin Reaves shed would-be tacklers for a 6-yard touchdown off right tackle at the 11:32 mark of the fourth quarter. Carolina went for two, but wide receiver Marvin McNutt was not able to haul in Webb's fade pass inbounds.

Buffalo extended its lead to 20-12 when Tuel rolled right and connected with wide receiver Chris Summers for a 1-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal.

A 31-yard touchdown catch by tight end Brandon Williams brought the Panthers within two once again, but the two-point attempt intended for wide receiver Philly Brown fell incomplete.

The onside kick recovery gave Carolina another chance, but the Panthers' third turnover of the night spelled the end.

The only injuries of note were suffered by tight end Mike McNeill (knee sprain) and safety Robert Lester (shoulder sprain).

"There were some good things. As expected with the first preseason game, there is a lot we need to grow from," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We learned about a lot of guys, and we'll CONTINUE through the process."

Bills survive late Panthers rally

Final Score: Bills 20 – Panthers 18

Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

Preseason records: Buffalo (1-1); Carolina Panthers (0-1)

In a Nutshell:

Buffalo surrendered an early 3-0 lead, but used a pair of turnovers to score 10 unanswered points to end the first half up a touchdown (13-6). After a scoreless third quarter the Panthers put together an 80-yard scoring drive off a takeaway of their own, but chose to try and take the lead after closing to within one. Their two-point conversion failed leaving the Bills a point ahead (13-12) with 11:32 to play.

Using the ground game to move the ball Buffalo capped a 58-yard scoring drive with a one-yard pass from Jeff Tuel to Chris Summers with just over five minutes remaining (20-12). The Panthers threatened to knot the game up with under two minutes to play after a 31-yard touchdown to Brandon Williams, but their two-point conversion failed (20-18).

Carolina was successful with an onsides kick attempt and mounted a late drive, but a tipped pass was intercepted by Jonathan Meeks to end the threat.

How it went down:
--Buffalo got on the board first with a 37-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter with 5:42 left in the opening quarter.

--The Panthers’ most impressive drive was capped at the start of the second quarter when Kelvin Benjamin made a great adjustment to an underthrown pass to the end zone by Derek Anderson, pulling in the pass for a 29-yard touchdown to make it 6-3 Carolina. Their extra point attempt was no good.

--Anthony ‘Boobie’ Dixon capped a five-play 28-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run to capitalize on a turnover and put Buffalo ahead 10-6 with four minutes left in the half.


--Da’Norris Searcy intercepted an overthrown pass by Matt Blanchard and returned it to the Carolina 38. It resulted in a Dan Carpenter 42-yard field goal as time expired (13-6).

--Buffalo’s defense then held Carolina scoreless through the third quarter as they forced a pair of punts on the Panthers’ only two possessions.

--Josh Norman’s interception of a Jeff Tuel pass intended for Marcus Easley in the end zone was taken 80 yards in the other direction by the Carolina offense for a touchdown on a six-yard run by Darrin Reeves. Panthers coach Ron Rivera chose to go for two to take the lead, but their conversion attempt failed leaving the Bills with a one-point edge (13-12).

--T.J. Graham’s ensuing 38-yard kick return helped set up the offense for an 11-play 58-yard touchdown drive capped by Tuel’s one-yard touchdown pass to Chris Summer on fourth-and-goal from the one. Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon pounded out 47 of the 58 yards on the ground on just eight carries.

--Carolina had a chance to tie with 1:37 remaining after a 31-yard touchdown pass from Joe Webb to Brandon Williams, but their second two-point conversion attempt also failed.

--The Panthers still had life after a successful onsides kick as a bouncing ball was recovered at the Carolina 39. But Jonathan Meeks intercepted a tipped pass to effectively seal the victory.


The half of it
--The Bills got off to a fast start as C.J. Spiller ripped off a 14-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Two plays later Sammy Watkins made his first reception for another 14-yard gain and a first down.


-EJ Manuel hit Chris Hogan down the right sideline to convert a 3rd-and-3 at the Panthers 43 and Hogan got all the way down to the Carolina 11. Four straight carries by Fred Jackson however, could not get the Bills a first down or in the end zone as a 4th-and-1 carry at the two went for no gain and a turnover on downs.


--The defense turned in a solid performance. They surrendered just one long scoring drive, which resulted in Carolina’s only points of the half. On the Panthers five other possessions none went for more than five plays.

--Buffalo’s defense registered a pair of takeaways. The first came on a forced fumble by Jarius Wynn, who stripped quarterback Matt Blanchard of the ball. Manny Lawsonrecovered at the Carolina 28. The offense cashed in with a touchdown off the turnover.

--The other takeaway came late in the half on an overthrow as Da’Norris Searcy intercepted a Blanchard pass and returned it to the Panthers 28-yard line. Buffalo got a field goal off the takeaway.

Subplots:
--Bryce Brown entered the game before Anthony Dixon, flipping the order in which they appeared in the Hall of Fame game. Brown’s first two carries went for 25 yards as he again looked explosive. His first two carries gave way to Dixon’s short goal line carries, with Dixon’s second finding the end zone on a one-yard run.

--Thad Lewis served as the second team quarterback playing the second and most of the third quarter. In the Hall of Fame game Jeff Tuel served as the second team QB. Lewis finished the night 6-11 for 63 yards and a passer rating of 71.4. He was sacked once.

--Buffalo’s punt coverage looked strong. Carolina returner Kenjon Barner had a pair of returns for no gain with tackles turned in by Ron Brooks (solo) and Jacquies Smith and Chris Hogan teaming up for the other tackle. Nigel Bradham also downed a third punt that was not returned at the Carolina 12-yard line.

--Cyril Richardson was the first guard to spell starter Kraig Urbik at right guard. He only played one series with the starting unit, but went the rest of the way with the second unit. Kraig Urbik then returned to play right guard with the third unit.

--DT Landon Cohen got into the game a lot earlier in the Bills’ second preseason game. Cohen lined up with the second unit Friday night after getting mop up duty in the Hall of Fame game.

--DE Jarius Wynn and LB Randell Johnson both logged sacks in the game.

Quotes from the locker room:
--“I thought they did a nice job, especially EJ. I think he was nine for 13 and really moved the team. It was up to the people around him to really get the ball in, as I talked about before. We’ve been creating opportunities and we’ve got to take advantage of it.” – Doug Marrone on the play of first team offense

-- “It was a crazy feeling. I got the butterflies out of the way. It felt good to just get my first catch and get the first down. It felt great and I got into the game.” –WR Sammy Watkins

--“I think it was good. That’s what we’re supposed to do. When we step out on the field, we expect to get a three-and-out every time. When we don’t we’re a little disappointed in each other, but we never get down. We bend, but don’t break. They scored a touchdown early, but we were able to get off the field on our last possession.” –S Duke Williams on play of first team defense

Inactives:
CB Leodis McKelvin, S Kenny Ladler, S Derek Brim, OT Edawn Coughman, OT Cordy Glenn

Up Next:
The Bills will travel to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday Aug. 16th. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.

GAME NOTEBOOK: FALCONS VS. DOLPHINS

RB Jacquizz Rodgers punched in a two-yard touchdown run on the Falcons first offensive possession, capping a 15-play, 77-yard drive and tying the game at seven. Atlanta has thrived on scoring early under Head Coach Mike Smith, notching a League-high 262 points on its first offensive possessions. Last season, the Falcons ranked tied for fifth with 38 first possession points and they have ranked in the top seven in terms of first possession scoring in each season since Smith took the reins in 2008.
QB Matt Ryan completed seven of seven pass attempts for 53 yards, including a 17-yard pass to WR Harry Douglas on Atlanta’s opening drive. Ryan exited the game at the end of the first quarter with a 98.2 passer rating.
Atlanta continued to show its penchant for methodically moving the chains to set up scores with a 15-play, 77-yard drive to answer the Dolphins opening score. Since 2008, the Falcons have totaled 176 drives lasting 10 plays or longer, with 142 scores and an NFC-leading 76 touchdowns. During that span, the Birds 80.7 scoring efficiency on long drives ranks tied for the NFL lead. Last season, the Falcons averaged nearly eight plays and 60.7 yards per scoring drive.
In one offensive series of work, WR Roddy White caught all four passes thrown in his direction for 27 yards. Three of White’s four receptions came on third down and resulted in first downs. The ninth-year receiver CONTINUES to show he is Ryan’s go-to man in crucial situations. Since 2008, White has compiled a League-best 143 first down receptions on third down. White also leads the League in overall third down receptions during that span with 168.
Rookie RB Devonta Freeman impressed in his debut totaling 107 total yards on 11 touches. Freeman carried the ball 10 times for 50 yards, including a long gain of 14 yards while posting a game-high five yards per carry. He also added one reception for 57 yards, the longest play of the game.
Freeman’s 57-yard reception set up a 36-yard field goal by K Sergio Castillo that gave the Falcons their six-point winning margin. The rookie runner out of Florida State was selected by the Falcons in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft. He became the first Florida State running back since Warrick Dunn to rush for over 1,000 yards when he logged 1,016 yards on 173 carries in 2013. Freeman is the sixth player in Seminole history to accomplish that feat.
After surrendering 73 yards on 10 plays and a touchdown during Miami’s opening drive, the Falcons defense held the Dolphins to 156 yards in the rest of the game. Atlanta’s defense held Miami to 229 total yards, including 51 yards on 21 carries (2.5 yards per carry).
Rookie LB Prince Shembo tied for the team lead with three tackles (one solo) and added the game’s LONEsack when he brought down QB Seth Lobato for a nine-yard loss. Shembo was drafted by the Falcons in the fourth round (137th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. He Started 34 of 51 games for the Irish finishing his career with 145 tackles (71 solo), 24.5 tackles for loss, 35 quarterback pressures, one fumble recovery, and two forced fumbles.
Atlanta’s kicking game was on the mark with K Matt Bryant and Castillo combining to connect on all three of their field goal attempts. Bryant was true from 21-yards out to tie the game at the end of the first half, while Castillo connected from 21 and 34 yards. His 21-yarder in the third quarter would turn out to be the deciding three points. Bryant also hit his point after attempt for the NFL’s experimental distance of 32 yards.
QB TJ Yates completed seven of 16 pass attempts for a game-high 127 yards with a 71.6 passer rating in his first action in a Falcons uniform.
QB Sean Renfree completed six of 15 attempts for 108 yards, including a 57-yard pass to Freeman. He finished the game with a 65.4 passer rating in his first game action since suffering an injury last year.

Dolphins Start Strong But Drop 16-10 Decision In Preseason Opener

The Dolphins preseason schedule kicked off Friday night, and things couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.

With a lot of anticipation as to how the new offense would function against an opponent, the Dolphins answered the call by marching 73 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 4:59 into the game.

To put it into perspective, the Dolphins hadn’t scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the preseason since 1988 when their quarterback was a fellow by the name of Marino.

“It was a great first series, just the way we wanted to start the game,” Head Coach Joe Philbin said after halftime. “We had good balance on the drive.”

The Miami touchdown came on a 6-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who provided more proof he’s back from the knee injury that cut short his 2013 season.

Tannehill was flawless on that drive, completing all six of his passes for 62 yards. Among his completions was a 36-yard hook-up with Rishard Matthews, the longest preseason completion of Tannehill’s NFL career.

His previous long had been a 33-yard pass to Mike Wallace at Houston last August.

Along with Tannehill’s passing, the rest of the drive consisted of four Lamar Miller runs good for 11 yards, including a 4-yard gain to convert a third-and-1 from the Miami 48-yard line.

Making it all possible was the new-look offensive line, which provided Tannehill with great pass protection, although the quarterback helped his cause with nice play fakes.

“They did a good job today in pass protection and opening the running game,” Miller said of the offensive line. “We still got a lot of room for improvement. It’s only the first preseason game; we’ve just got to get better as a unit.”

Making that first drive more impressive was the fact it was accomplished with Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay all watching the game from the sidelines.

“We looked good the first drive,” Gibson said. “We still have tons of work to do. We’re missing Clay, Mike, Brian. I think they’re a big part of our offense. Once we get to full strength, we’ll be even better.”

The Dolphins ended up losing 16-10 in a penalty-filled game after a fumble by rookie quarterback Seth Lobato ended a late Miami drive that had reached the Atlanta 5-yard line. The Dolphins had one last shot after getting the ball at midfield at the two-minute warning, but their final drive ended on downs.

“I thought our guys played hard, I thought our guys played tough; unfortunately, there’s some things that have happened in practice that reared their ugly head at a bad time in the game,” Philbin said. “If you would have asked me when we had the ball on the 5-yard line, I would have bet my ranch and everything I have that we were going to win the football game.”

The first drive was all the action Tannehill saw against Atlanta on Friday night as he gave way to Lobato while both Matt Moore and Pat Devlin sat out the game with minor injuries.

Left tackle Branden Albert, Miller and Gibson also were done after the first drive, but the rest of the starting offensive line — left guard Daryn Colledge, center Samson Satele, right guard Dallas Thomas and right tackle Ja’Wuan James — continued to see action throughout the first half and James even got snaps in the third quarter.

While clearly the highlight of the evening for the Dolphins, the performance of Tannehill and the first-team offense was far from the only noteworthy performances.

Rookie wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who has attracted a lot of attention with his strong performance in training camp, didn’t catch a pass, but he set up a 42-yard field goal by Daniel Hrapmann — kicking just two days after being signed — with an electrifying 48-yard punt return.

Landry began the return with a quick move to elude the first defender and later broke a tackle to gain an additional 20 yards. The return was the longest for the Dolphins in a preseason game since Phillip Livas had a 75-yard touchdown in 2011, also at the Georgia Dome.

Landry’s punt return came after Marcus Thigpen had brought back a punt 28 yards.

On defense, second-year cornerback Will Davis broke up a handful of passes, although he did get flagged for pass interference late in the second quarter. Early in the second half, rookie defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Garrison Smith both dropped Atlanta running backs for significant losses.

“It felt like they were coming at me every time I was out there,” Davis said. “It was kind of crazy. That’s what you want, especially in the preseason. You want the opportunity to make plays and come in here and get action.”

Tight end Brett Brackett, re-signed this week days after being released, had two long receptions, a 22-yard gain in the first half and a 30-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Brackett also had a 5-yard catch on the Dolphins’ last possession.

In the end, though, the Dolphins left the Georgia Dome knowing they still have plenty of work to do in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season. That includes the defense, a group that wasn’t happy about a fairly significant number of missed tackles.

“Just one thing that we need to work on, especially myself, is tackling right now,” linebacker Koa Misi said. “That’s something I’m going to concentrate on doing better.”

“We definitely found out what we need to work on this week.”