It’s Victory Monday once again as the Bills returned home and defeated the Carolina Panthers 31-14. We are at the point in the season where every game is of the utmost importance and this was big with all the playoff implications hanging in the balance.
I said before the game that I didn’t view the Carolina defense as an elite unit but, for the 1st quarter of the game, they were looking better than I had given them credit for. Both teams were engaged in a tight defensive battle, and the Panthers probably should have been up 3-0 early but their kicker was injured during the pre-game warmups and it forced their hand in some 4th down attempts. After exchanging possessions, the Bills finally got the scoring started in the 2nd quarter.
Buffalo’s running back situation hasn’t had a clear picture for the majority of the season, but that may be changing. After the Thanksgiving Day game versus the Saints, I talked about liking what I had seen from Devin Singletary. That game had come after the “Breida RB1” conversation began and with good reason but, against a pretty stout New Orleans run defense, Motor ran with the kind of explosiveness and power that made me take notice. His 14-carries for 44-yards in that game may have gone mostly under the radar but it was how he ran that impressed me. He showed some of that explosive burst last week against the Bucs in the second half and he turned that into his best game of the season, going for 86-yards on 22-carries and 1-TD that sparked the offense. His 4.7-yards-per-carry is tied for 10th overall, something his detractors may not acknowledge.
Stefon Diggs scored his 8th TD of the season, tying his total from last season, to put the Bills up 14-0. The back-shoulder throw from Josh Allen as a dart and Diggs fought through Stephon Gilmore for the TD in the front corner. While he’s off the pace from the monster season he had last year because the target volume isn’t the same, he topped 1,000-yards on the season on Sunday and he’s tied for 7th in the league in the TDs.
Second-year wide receiver Gabriel Davis has stepped up over the last few games and exploded for 85-yards and 2-TDs vs the Panthers. I’ve been an ardent Davis supporter and calling for more snaps since the beginning of the season because he brings a different element of physicality to the WR corps. You could see it when Dawson Knox was hurt, the Bills used Davis in some of the tight end positions and that’s something none of the other receivers do. I like Emmanuel Sanders, so it sucks that it took his injury for Davis to have this kind of breakout game. Moving forward, if both are healthy, I think Gabe has shown his value at this point.
Not to get lost in the shuffle, the Buffalo defense played really well once again. They surrendered 14-pts and only 275-yards of offense and moved back to 1st overall in yards and point differential. All of those guys that Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane brought over from Carolina over the past few seasons took it upon themselves to get it going. Efe Obada came away with the 2-sacks, but Star Lotulelei got one as well and commanded enough attention to help out Mario Addison (2-tackles-for-loss) and Vernon Butler. In total, the Bills’ defense wound up with 4-sacks, 7-TFL, 1-INT, 4-turnovers on downs, and 2-three-and-outs. Not a bad day at the office.
This was exactly the kind of game the Bills needed heading into their rematch with the Patriots next week. While they ultimately scored 31-points, it wasn’t a cakewalk. The Carolina defense certainly made them earn those scores and there’s still a lot of areas where the offense can clean some things up. It’s a nice problem to have when you can score that much and still says there’s room for improvement.
Performance Grade: A-
The division lead will be on the line when the Bills travel to Foxborough next week and, all things considered, you couldn’t ask for more. The Pats got bullied by the Colts for the whole first half, but they still found a way to hang in there and almost snatch the victory from the jaws of defeat. Bill Belichick’s teams are too good to play around with that and Indy almost found out the hard way. Fortunately, there will be some lessons to learn in film study. I think the Bills we’ve seen since halftime against the Bucs is good enough to beat the Pats, but now it’s time to make it so.
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