It wasn’t a boat race. It wasn’t anything flashy. It wasn’t necessarily all that exciting.
But in what was a must-win game against an inferior opponent, the Buffalo Bills took care of business.
Buffalo, fueled by a stout defensive effort, defeated the Carolina Panthers by a score of 31-14 in their Week 15 matchup, moving within one game of the New England Patriots for the division lead.
It was an expected, but needed, victory, as a loss would have potentially dropped the Bills from a wild-card playoff spot firmly into the dreaded “in the hunt” territory. Here are four takeaways from Buffalo’s win:
In what was his first career start at left tackle, Spencer Brown drank a beer.
He also allowed numerous pressures and took five penalties – three holdings (one of which offset), a false start, and a taunting call that cost Buffalo valuable field position on what had been a 12-yard Devin Singletary run.
It was a rough outing for Brown, who was thrust to the opposite side of the offensive line after stalwart left tackle Dion Dawkins tested positive for Covid-19 late in the week. It’s difficult to be overly critical of the rookie, as the starting right tackle was only informed that he would now be protecting Josh Allen’s blindside a few days before kickoff.
He also drank a beer during the game, which is objectively hilarious.
All of this being said, he was still the weakest link in what was an overall subpar game from the offensive line. He was consistently beaten by Carolina pass-rushers, with his physical and mental lapses costing the Bills yardage in the form of allowed sacks and penalties throughout the entirety of the day.
Brown has shown flashes at right tackle throughout his rookie campaign, and after watching him on the left side, it’s clear that he should stay on the right for the foreseeable future.
But did I mention he drank a beer?
Carolina’s offense was forced to be assertive throughout the contest after kicker Zane Gonzalez sustained an injury in warmups. With the kicking game all but eliminated from their arsenal, the Panthers were forced to go for it on fourth down five times.
The Bills stopped them on four of their attempts.
That stat is just a feather in the cap for a Buffalo defense that was stout throughout the entire matchup, limiting Carolina to 275 net yards and 14 points. The Bills’ defensive front took advantage against a weak Panthers’ offensive line, getting semi-consistent pressure on quarterback Cam Newton. The team tallied four total sacks, with Efe Obada notching two against his former team.
Though the unit, on paper, struggled against the run, with Carolina recording over 150 rushing yards, this production largely came in chunks, with Newton picking up a few chunk gains on the ground, Chuba Hubbard notching a 21-yard run, and Robby Anderson picking up 30 on an end-around. These big plays do need to be mitigated moving forward, but none of them were necessarily back-breaking for Buffalo’s defense.
The secondary largely shined, with Newton completing just 18 passes for 156 yards on the day. Quietly having a strong day was Harrison Phillips, who was a consistent presence in the middle of the defensive line. He finished the game with three tackles.
A strong outing against a Cam Newton-led offense in 2021 isn’t something that should necessarily be celebrated, but it should be commended. The Bills’ defense kept the team in the game until the offense could get going, which is all it needed to do.
Run game finds rhythm
Better late than never.
It took until Week 15, but we’ve now finally seen some semblance of consistency out of Buffalo’s backfield.
Devin Singletary finished the game with 86 yards on 22 attempts, even finding the endzone in the second quarter. It wasn’t a perfect game from Singletary and Buffalo’s offensive line, a unit that struggled to consistently create push for the third-year back throughout the day, but it was a reassuring one.
Because the Bills found production in the run game out of a running back.
Allen, playing with a foot injury, wasn’t asked to beat the opposition with both his arm and legs. Buffalo didn’t even roll out the different-back-on-every-other-drive strategy that it had been utilizing throughout much of the season. It stuck with Singletary, who rewarded the team with arguably his best outing of the season.
The Bills finished the game with 119 total rushing yards; not jaw-dropping by any means, but a good start for a team that wants to establish the running game as it moves toward the postseason. It’s clear that Singletary, who appears to be playing his best football since his rookie campaign, is the hot hand in Buffalo’s backfield at the moment, something that could result in more touches moving forward.
Effective through the air
All Gabriel Davis seems to do is make plays.
The second-year wideout made a few more plays in Buffalo’s win over the Panthers, catching five passes for 85 yards and two scores. He now has six touchdowns on the year – not bad for a player who didn’t start to consistently get on the field until recent weeks.
He was on the receiving end of what was arguably Allen’s best throw of the day, a 20-yard dart to the back of the endzone in the third quarter. Allen had a few strong throws throughout the contest, but a few misses, as well, something that can be said about every quarterback playing in every NFL game ever. Despite what a strange halftime report from the Fox Sports panel may tell you, it was a largely good game from Alen, who completed 19 of 34 passes for 210 yards, three touchdowns, and one pick.
Also deserving a mention is Stefon Diggs, who caught four passes for 35 yards and one touchdown. Had he not caught that touchdown pass, Spencer Brown would not have been able to drink a beer.