The Panthers dominated play on offense and defense Sunday, outgaining Buffalo 425-167 and posting 20 first downs, to just 9 for the Bills. Yet the Panthers lost 20-9, stopping a two-game winning streak with a home loss to a mediocre team.
How did they lose, then? If you have been following the Panthers for a while and you missed the game, you could probably answer that question. That's right, more turnovers -- mostly by Jake Delhomme. The quarterback threw three more picks Sunday, giving him 13 on the season. The Panthers also muffed a punt and failed to convert a fourth-and-short play. Essentially they turned the ball over to Buffalo five times; the Bills did not turn it over at all.
Make no mistake. This was not all Delhomme's fault. The entire team self-destructed. John Kasay, who has made more than 80 percent of his field goal attempts dating to the start of the 2006 season, missed 43- and 39-yard attempts in perfect conditions when the Panthers trailed only 7-2. And while the Buffalo defense stuffed the Panthers on their first red-zone trip, the Carolina defense allowed Buffalo to score touchdowns on its first two red-zone opportunities. That put Carolina behind 14-2 in the fourth quarter.
But the biggest difference were the change-of-possession plays. Here's a look at the four turnovers and fourth-down failure:
Situation: First-and-10, Carolina 13. 5:30 to play in the first quarter. 0-0 score.
Formations: The Panthers lined up in I-formation with two tight ends. The Bills were in a 4-3 with a corner playing press coverage on the Panthers' wide receiver.
What happened: A tight end went in motion right, drawing a Bills defensive back across the field. Delhomme faked a handoff to tailback DeAngelo Williams and threw deep down the middle of the field for tight end Gary Barnidge. Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd picked off the pass at the Carolina 45 and returned it to the Panthers 7.
How it happened: Buffalo rushed four linemen and Delhomme had all day to throw. But he threw high, failing to step into the throw. Instead he threw off his back foot, using mostly his arm. Barnidge ran right by two Bills and came open across the middle. Byrd was late to arrive in coverage, but the ball sailed over Barnidge and landed right in Byrd's hands. He then had plenty of room to run on the return.
The result: First-and-goal for Buffalo. Two plays later Marshawn Lynch scored on a run to put Buffalo ahead -- to stay.
Situation: Fourth-and-1, Buffalo 13. 6:10 to play in the third quarter. 7-2 Buffalo.
Formations: The Panthers used the I with an extra tight end lined up right and a receiver split left. The Bills lined up with nine players in the box, one deep safety and a corner in press coverage.
What happened: Tailback Jonathan Stewart took the handoff, ran left and was stuffed for a 2-yard loss. Linebackers Chris Draft and Paul Posluszny made the initial hit, then Byrd flew in and finished Stewart off.
How it happened: In the second quarter, trailing 7-0, Panthers coach John Fox attempted a field goal on fourth-and-short. Kasay missed a 43-yard attempt and later in the second he missed the 39-yard attempt. Fox chose to go for the first down this time, even though this kick would have been a chip shot -- 30 yards -- and would have cut Buffalo's lead to 7-5 with more than 20 minutes still to play and the Bills offense nearly hopeless.
As Stewart took the handoff, the offensive linemen went low and took out the Bills' linemen. But the Carolina fullback went low on Draft and missed him. Left tackle Jordan Gross blocked a defensive end, then flailed at Posluszny. Nobody else attempted to block Posluszny. He and Draft stuffed Stewart's momentum and as the back continued to fight, Byrd zipped up from free safety and wrestled him to the ground.
The result: The Panthers wound up without any points after moving 73 yards in five plays to the Buffalo 13. They still trailed by five points.
Situation: Second-and-6, Carolina 39. 1:20 to play in the third. 7-2 Buffalo.
Formations: The Panthers went three-wide with two backs. Buffalo was in a 4-3 with a linebacker showing blitz over right tackle and corners in press coverage. One safety was deep, and the other six yards off the line of scrimmage over right tackle.
What happened: Delhommed faked a handoff to Stewart and threw over the middle for receiver Steve Smith at the Buffalo 44. The ball was high, Smith leaped and tipped it, and Byrd intercepted the carom. Byrd returned the pick to the Carolina 27.
How it happened: The Bills rushed four linemen and Delhomme had plenty of time to throw. He spotted Smith, who beat Drayton Florence on a simple drag route across the middle. Delhomme again failed to step into the throw, using mostly his arm. The ball sailed high. Byrd was again late in coverage, standing four yards behind Smith as the ball arrived. But the tip went right to him.
The result: The Bills had a first down inside the Carolina 30. Buffalo's most effective drive of the day, six plays and 27 yards, then yielded a touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Lee Evans. (An egregious roughing the passer penalty inside the 10 may have cost Carolina four points). The Bills now led by two scores.
Situation: Buffalo ball, fourth-and1, at the Buffalo 45. 5:30 to play in the fourth quarter. 17-9 Bills.
Formations: Both teams lined up expecting a Buffalo punt. The Panthers set up a return for Kenneth Moore.
What happened: Brian Moorman hit a line-drive punt that traveled 40 yards. Moore settled under it at the Carolina 15, but muffed it. He dove on the ball but it squirted free. The Bills recovered at the 20 and advanced it three yards.
How it happened: Because of the punt's short hang time, Moore had a lot of space up the middle on a potential return. The ball hit his hands, then bounced off his shoulder pads and fell to the ground. Moore's head was pointed straight ahead as he attempted to catch the ball. Perhaps he took his eyes off the ball when he saw all that running room.
The result: Buffalo took over at the Carolina 17. The Bills then got one first down, forced the Panthers to use their final timeout and kicked a 20-yard field goal on the first play after the two-minute warning to go up again by two scores.
Situation: Second-and-14 at the Buffalo 49. 1:39 to play in the fourth. 20-9 Buffalo.
Formations: The Panthers lined up in the shotgun with three receivers and one back. Buffalo was in a prevent defense with four linemen and one linebacker. Three corners were in press coverage.
What happened: Delhomme pumped, then threw deep down the middle for Barnidge. George Wilson intercepted the overthrown pass inside the Buffalo 10.
How it happened: Delhomme again had no pressure, but again he failed to step into the throw. Throwing off his back foot, he overthrew Barnidge by several yards. Barnidge was well-covered and Wilson was playing centerfield. He easily picked it off.
The result: Game over.