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Big Mo: How the Bills buffaloed the Panthers in Week 15

Let’s look at the biggest plays in swinging momentum in the Panthers unsurprising and uninspiring loss to the Bills.

Carolina Panthers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

The Big Mo series highlights the plays (or series of plays) that had the biggest impact on swinging the Panthers win probability as calculated by ESPN. In Week 15 Carolina came in as big underdogs, fell behind 14-0 early, and never had a chance in this one. The win probably chart paints a pretty clear picture:

ESPN

The Panthers have been bad for the last couple of months and did little to reverse the trend. Here’s how the wheels fell off:

First quarter 12:51 - Panthers 0, Bills 0

Burns misses scoop-and-score touchdown (26% to “?%” Panthers win probability): The Bills faced a three-and-out on their first possession with third-and-15 from their own 35. Yetur Gross-Matos and Haason Reddick combined to sack Josh Allen and force a fumble. Brian Burns bore down on the bouncing ball and tried to pick it up in stride for a scoop-and-score touchdown (instead of falling on it), but he whiffed. The Bills recovered the fumble, punted, and Carolina’s offense didn’t score on its ensuing possession. I don’t normally highlight “what if?” plays (hence the question mark in the win probability above), but Carolina could’ve had huge momentum if Burns would’ve taken that early fumble to the house.

Second quarter 2:52 - Panthers 0, Bills 14

Jeremy Chinn’s awesome interception (10% to 24% Panthers win probability): The Panthers trailed 14-0 with just under three minutes left in the second quarter. The Bills had the ball and with a sustained drive could add to their lead and basically put the game out of reach. But on first-and-10 from the Buffalo 22 Jeremy Chinn baited Josh Allen into an athletic interception. Three plays later the Panthers scored a touchdown with a two-point conversion to suddenly narrow the deficit to 14-8. Chinn’s pick paved the way for the Panthers to be trailing by just six points late in the second quarter. The Panthers were still massive underdogs with a 24% win probability, but Chinn’s pick gave them hope.

Third quarter 7:56 - Panthers 8, Bills 17

Bravvion’s unnecessary roughness (12% to 3% Panthers win probability): Midway through the third quarter the Panthers defense seemed to force a big stop on third-and-9 from the Buffalo 39 with a Yetur Gross-Matos sack as he shoved Josh Allen out of bounds. However, Bravvion Roy was flagged for a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty. He was on the sidelines and exchanged a small shove with a Bills player after the play was over, but it didn’t appear egregious at all. Buffalo’s drive got new life by virtue of the dubious penalthy and they ultimately scored a touchdown to go up 24-8 with less than six minutes left in the third quarter. Carolina’s win percentage fell to 3%.

Fourth quarter 14:12 - Panthers 8, Bills 24

Yetur’s sack forces an end zone punt (4% to 11% Panthers win probability): Early in the fourth quarter the Panthers trailed by 16 (still technically two scores) and Buffalo faced third-and-6 from their own 16. Yetur Gross-Matos sacked Josh Allen for a 10-yard loss which forced the Bills to punt from the end zone. After a short 37-yard punt the Panthers offense took possession at the Buffalo 43. Four plays later Ameer Abdullah scored a 23-yard touchdown to narrow the deficit to 24-14 after a failed two-point conversion. This sequence gave the Panthers at least a sliver of hope, but they were never able to get over the hump.

Big Mo MVP - Yetur Gross-Matos

The second-year pro had the best game of his career, recording five tackles, 2.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble. As noted above, his fourth quarter sack flipped field position and set up the Panthers anemic offense for a touchdown drive. Well done, Yeet.

What I liked

  • The family reunion feel when scanning the Bills roster - Sean McDermott, A.J. Klein, Daryl Williams, Efe Obada, Vernon Butler, Mario Addison, Star Lotulelei…
  • The Panthers defense absolutely showed out in a scoreless first quarter. If Carolina’s offense could sustain some drives here and there, this defense could be really good.
  • This was the first game in NFL history with a 17-8 halftime score, per FOX’s broadcast. We witnessed history, friends!
  • Watching wide receiver Brandon Zylstra handle kickoff duties sans Zane Gonzalez, drilling line drive knuckleballs.

What I didn’t like

  • Zane Gonzalez suffering a pregame injury, leaving Carolina without a kicker.
  • Brady Christensen playing zero snaps. Matt Rhule continuing to invest snaps in Cameron Erving, John Miller, and Michael Jordan over a fairly promising third-round rookie is just baffling.
  • On fourth-and-1 in the first quarter trying to throw a badly failed bubble screen to Robby Anderson instead of ramming Cam Newton up the gut. Yeah, Joe Brady was clearly the problem with the offense and coaching staff.
  • The Bills loud, highly annoying train whistle that sounds over the PA throughout the game. That’s not pleasant as a viewer.

This isn’t just a bad Panthers team, it’s a lost Panthers team playing out a lost season. There’s no clear path to improvement at this point. I’m patient enough to give both general manager Scott Fitterer and coach Matt Rhule another full season to see what they can accomplish, but right now this rebuild looks awful.

The 5-9 Panthers now go on the road to face a 10-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers that was just embarrassed in a shutout loss to the Saints. Tom Brady and Co. will be looking for blood and I’m pretty sure Matt Rhule’s subpar team will offer them an artery.