The Buffalo Bills targeted a mismatch early against the Carolina Panthers.
Defensive end Mario Williams had lined up over the left tackle much of the season-opener against New England. He lined up over right tackle Byron Bell from the start Sunday and had Bell on roller skates most of the first quarter.
Bell, undrafted out of New Mexico in 2011, is in his third year as a starter. He’s a 6-foot-5, 340-pounder, but he couldn’t handle Williams’ bull rush.
Williams had two sacks and two other hurries of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers had a fullback helping out on Williams some of the time after the first two series.
Key plays: Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso stopped the Panthers’ first drive by intercepting a Newton pass at the Buffalo 19. Alonso read a hitch pattern run by Brandon LaFell and stepped in front of the short throw. ... Bills place-kicker Dan Carpenter was wide right on a 42-yard field-goal try with 8:10 left in the quarter.
Second guess: The Bills went conservative at the end of their first drive. On a third-and-4 play from the Carolina 20, Fred Jackson took a handoff up the middle and was stuffed for a 4-yard loss, prompting the field-goal try by Carpenter.
Carolina tight end Greg Olsen used his 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame to give the Panthers a halftime lead. Olsen caught a 13-yard touchdown pass over the middle from Cam Newton with 13 seconds left in the half. It made the score 7-3.
A shrewd trade just before the 2011 season gave the Panthers their upper-echelon tight end. Olsen was a first-round draft pick out of the University of Miami in 2007 and produced decent numbers his first four years. However, the Bears offensive coordinator at the time, Mike Martz, didn’t highly value a tight end like Olsen. Carolina acquired him for a third-round draft pick.
Olsen caught 69 passes for 843 yards last season. On his TD play, the Bills were in a zone defense, rushing three men and dropping eight into coverage. Olsen got behind linebacker Manny Lawson and in front of the safeties, and Newton made a good throw just out of Lawson’s reach.
Key plays: Dan Carpenter kicked a 55-yard field goal to give the Bills the lead with 10:41 left in the half. Carpenter made a 60-yarder for Miami in 2010 and had a 58-yarder last season. It was the longest field goal at The Ralph since a 56-yarder by Rian Lindell in 2009.
The Buffalo Bills’ first two-point conversion in two years was a small but critical play in their comeback victory.
After a 4-yard scoring run by Fred Jackson pulled the Bills within 14-12, EJ Manuel hit Robert Woods with a 2-yard conversion pass to tie the game with 4:14 left in the quarter.
It was a great catch by Woods, who got inside Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on a slant from the right side of the field. In the face of a six-man Panthers blitz, Manuel had to get rid of the ball, and Woods dived to the inside for the grab. Stevie Johnson was lined up in the slot on the right side of the field and ran to the outside.
“It was like a switch route,” Woods said. “It was man coverage and I just slipped inside of the defender, the ball was right there.”
Right there? That’s being a little kind, isn’t it?
“It’s in a catchable area, so it was there,” Woods said with a smile.
Key plays: Carolina went ahead, 14-6, on a 40-yard TD pass from Cam Newton to Ted Ginn with 6:52 left.
Key foul: Bills fullback Frank Summers had a defensive holding penalty before the kick on a Panthers punt that kept their TD drive alive.
Two key defensive stands helped the Bills stay alive for their final game-winning drive.
The Panthers had a first-and-goal at the 4 with 14:16 left. Kiko Alonso nearly sacked Cam Newton with a delayed blitz and forced a dump-off to Brandon LaFell that was stuffed for a 5-yard loss. On second down, Mario Williams stayed home to prevent an option run by Newton and Kyle Williams stuffed the running back. On third down Leodis McKelvin broke up a sideline pass. Carolina settled for a field goal to go ahead, 17-14.
Four minutes later, Carolina had first and 10 at the Buffalo 12. Two runs were stopped, and Mario Williams chased down Newton along the sideline for a sack to force another field goal. Carolina led, 20-14.
Key plays: EJ Manuel drove the Bills 80 yards in nine plays, capped by a 2-yard TD pass to Stevie Johnson with 2 seconds left. … Dan Carpenter booted a 48-yard field goal to pull Buffalo within 20-17. Graham Gano kicked a 39-yarder to make it 23-17 with 1:38 left.
Second-guess: Starting wideout Brandon LaFell had four catches for 13 yards. The Panthers should have done more in the offseason to bring in some other veteran options at wide receiver to help Cam Newton in the passing game.