Sporting a bucket hat that matched his attitude, and position on the sideline, Cam Newton had Bills fans wondering if the defensive display their 1st and 2nd teamers put on Friday night was just a reflection of facing a string of bench-warming backups. I can say this, after watching the fits our D-line and secondary gave the black and teal: our defense is going to be a handful for most any opponent.
It started in Carolina’s first possession. Carolina was staring six yards to the first down marker. The Carolina version of Allen (K. Allen) took the snap, and the Carolina O-line doubled up on Eddy O. The rookie held his ground, even pushed the pocket back a bit, before launching himself at the would-be pass, and knocking it to the ground. Earlier in week, while the Bills and Panthers duked it out under a 95+ degree blanket of Carolina humidity, some reporters caught an interaction between the freshly-poached Captain Munnerlyn, now with the Bills, and his old QB, Newton. Newton was heard jawing with Munnerlyn about how the Carolina line would tire out “91”, not mentioning the Houston 3-Technique by name. As he passed the camera, you could see Oliver throw a piercing look at the trash-talking quarterback.
No. Words. Needed.
Oliver had ice in his veins, and although he didn’t get a crack at the Panther quarterback, he was hardly the one being worn down by Carolina’s trench dogs. And while he didn’t make a huge impact on the stat sheet—the line pass deflection to his name—Oliver provided glimpses of why McBeane rejoiced when the Lions passed on the Houston product!
The Bills offense ran the Cole Beasley special during the first offensive drives. The show started with a tight, 5 yard snag by Beasley, which he followed with an 8 yard reception, on 3rd down, to make the marker and keep the chains moving. McCoy was still finding his game, not really ripping any off, but mixing in runs and catches. Sweeney got in on the action with one of the prettiest fades I’ve seen Josh throw this year: a 28 yard floater into the B.C. product’s bread-basket, as he rumbled out of bounds. An incompletion to Singletary followed, but Beasley roared back, the next play, with something we haven’t seen since Chan Gailey had Spiller water bugging around The Ralph: a successful screen! A yard and a half behind his line, Cole caught a dart from Allen, spun around, and sliced and diced his way to an 11 yard gain to the Carolina 18.
Red zone time: Josh may have felt the yips, as he was sacked for -1 on first down, but he slung a pass to Beasley for six, then scrambled another yard to the 12. The Bills kept it conservative, letting Haushka punch the ball 30 yards for three points.
In that first drive, the national media’s Josh Allen hid in a cave, as the flesh-and-blood Wyoming gunslinger pistoled 6 of 8 for 61 yards, good enough for a 75% completion rate. It’s nice to blow holes in entrenched dialogues.
The Bills’ second possession was a whirlwind: five plays spanning 35 yards, on the heels of a glistening, 37 yard return by Andre Roberts. It was hard to top that run back for the highlight of the drive, but Tommy Sweeney was up to the challenge. Josh Allen sent a beautiful pass right down the left hash for Sweeney. He made the initial catch, but the Carolina defenders brought the Beantown boy down, hard, and the ball was jettisoned into the air for a split-second. Sweeney’s laser-focus saved the day, though, as he reached up and snatched the ball out of the air, securing the catch and setting up McCoy to dance into the end zone.
Allen exited after this drive, finishing a stellar 9 of 11 (with a drop and a throw-away to avoid a sack), good enough for an 82% completion rate. Again… that old 54% narrative is getting bloodied up as Allen stacks week on week of improvements. Maybe having an O-line has some impact on completion percentage. Maybe NOT having 8th string receivers, plucked from the street, and a broken TE with teflon paws could possibly improve your completion percentage. What do I know, though?
I’ll go through a couple of highlights.
-Matt Barkley continues to impress me. He keeps making smart decisions, plays within his limitations, takes what the defense gives him, and encourages Allen and the whole team. Every picture I see of the guy, he has a grin wrapped around his face so wide, Howard the House Ballard could slip through. I kid; I kid. But I’m becoming more and more secure in the idea that if Allen goes down, snow may still fall in Buffalo, but the sky will decidedly not.
-Thank goodness Milano looked quicker and more fluid than in last weeks game. I was a little concerned, seeing him just a half-step behind. He may have been taking things a little gingerly, after that ghastly ankle break last season, but his movement and flow towards the ball today was promising.
-Once again, Christian Wade dazzled us on that 48 yard reception and run. My one critique: he took a bad angle, not trusting his blockers, that resulted in him being tackled before reaching the end zone. He is still working on nuances of the game, learning how blocking works (you can’t block in rugby the same way you can in the NFL), and trusting himself. I really hope we keep him on the P.S., so he can galvanize those instincts; he is truly a special talent in a league bursting with talented players.
-Darryl Johnson notched another sack, QB hit, and tackle on his short NFL belt. I heard an interview on WGR where he said that the first NFL game he attended was last week’s preseason opener against the Colts. Not to be cliched, but I feel like this kid screams untapped potential. Another point made, during the WGR segment on Johnson, was that the Bills were the only NFL team present at Johnson’s pro day. McBean, the Witch, strikes again! These guys are NOT leaving a stone unturned.
-It was encouraging to see Trent Murphy notch a sack. I’m praying that the former Redskin is 100%; we need pressure opposite Hughes to really hassle the Tom Bradys of the NFL.
-Deon Lacey was all over the field in the 2nd half, outpacing all Bills with 8 tackles, and tagging one for a loss, to boot! The level of competition, even for backup spots, has increased dramatically, this year. Good players will be cut, probably for the first time in 20 years. It’s really encouraging to know this.
-And I’ll wrap with Kevin Johnson’s 71 yard pick-six. I’ll grant that it was a terrible pass, but there’s no taking away from that thing of beauty he turned in. I feel as though, in retrospect, that pass put the nail in the E.J. Gaines coffin. I have nothing against Gaines’ play or his attitude, but the best ability in this league is availability. I can see why the Bills let Gaines walk.