The Carolina Panthers could not overcome the loss of kicker Zane Gonzalez to a pregame injury, as the Buffalo Bills prevailed with a 31-14 victory Sunday in Buffalo.
Gonzalez injured his quad while attempting a kick during the pregame warmups, significantly altering how the Panthers handled the kicking duties. Carolina didn’t attempt a single field goal on Sunday, and used wide receiver Brandon Zylstra for their three kickoffs during the game.
Head Coach Matt Rhule called it a “cram session” to change his team’s strategy.
“If anything, I would have come into this game typically been like hey, its windy weather let’s kick short field goals, take points,” Rhule said. “We really thought our defense was going to play well.”
The Panthers had two drives end in Gonzalez’ presumed field-goal range after turnovers on downs. They also failed to convert a 4th & 1 near midfield after a botched tunnel screen.
Rhule said the zone-read play was an error by QB Cam Newton.
“It wasn’t done right. It wasn’t executed. I mean, I can’t sit here and say why. He saw the guy blitz, you can throw the bubble off the blitz, but we have that guy blocked,” Rhule said. “It should be handed off.”
Despite the points allowed, the Panthers defense kept them in the ballgame, sacking Josh Allen four times & Yetur Gross-Matos having a hand in three of them. Carolina also won the turnover margin thanks to Jeremy Chinn’s interception of Josh Allen. The short field led to the Panthers’ first touchdown of the game, coming on a four-yard run for QB Cam Newton.
Newton did most of his damage on the ground, gaining 71 yards on 15 attempts, on a day where he completed 18-of-39 passes for 156 yards with a touchdown & a late interception.
Rhule made pointed comments postgame that seemed to point criticism towards the QB play regarding the team’s inability to throw the ball downfield.
“Certainly right now, our passing down the fields is not one of our strengths,” Rhule said.
The Panthers’ starter failed to comment substantively on the criticism, saying, “I can’t make a rational comment right now because it’s right after the game. Some things you just got to go back [and] analyze on the film and just make the proper adjustments come next game.”
Carolina’s propensity for costly penalties once again reared its ugly head, as a pair of 15-yard personal fouls led directly to points. Brian Burns’ committed a roughing-the-passer penalty near the end of the first half which extended Buffalo’s last drive before halftime, resulting in a field goal. Bravvion Roy also earned a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on a skirmish along the Carolina sideline. Roy’s penalty turned a 3rd-and-long into a first down, on a drive which the Bills scored a touchdown.
“I thought our defense for long stretches played really well in that game,” Rhule said. “I hate the fact that we stopped them and then we gave them that stupid penalty to give them the first down and they go down to score.”
Carolina (5-9) will play its final home game next week on the day after Christmas, facing divisional foe Tampa Bay (10-3) for the first time this season.
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