Last-minute kicker scratch a blow to Panthers in 31-14 loss to Bills

Carolina Panthers

FOX 46 CHARLOTTE – The Panthers lost their fourth-straight game falling in a frigid Orchard Park to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, 31-14. The Panthers wouldn’t have to wait until kickoff for their first headache.

During pregame warmups, kicker Zane Gonzalez suffered an apparent hamstring injury and was ruled out. Multiple players including a running back and wide receiver took practice kicks before game time. All of a sudden with just hours to go before Sunday’s game Jeff Nixon, named offensive coordinator after Matt Rhule and the Panthers fired Joe Brady two weeks ago, found himself in quite the predicament.

The Bills struck first scoring on a 16-yard run from a fully-stretched out Devin Singletary, who barely crossed the pylons, for a 7-0 lead. On the very next possession, the Bills tacked on another TD when Josh Allen connected with Stefon Diggs on an 11-yard pass. Diggs spun away from defender Stephon Gilmore crossing the goal line for a 14-0 lead.

The Panthers (5-9) wouldn’t lay down, though.

Jeremy Chinn picked off Allen with 2:45 to go in the half. Wide receiver Robby Anderson took a handoff from Newton for a 30-yard run down the field for a 1st and goal at the 2-minute warning. Newton would get the Panthers on the board with a 4-yard TD run and convert a 2-point conversion with a pass to DJ Moore in the back right corner of the endzone to make it 14-8. Buffalo kicked a FG before halftime for a 17-8 lead going into the locker room.

With Gonzalez out, the Panthers had to get creative. While Lachlan Edwards handled punting duties, WR Brandon Zylstra handled kickoffs and made his first appearance in the second quarter with a successful squib kick. Edwards finished with 4 punts averaging 45.5 yards. The Panthers would not attempt an extra point for the entire game.

In the 3rd quarter, Buffalo (8-6) padded its lead with a 20-yard TD pass from Allen to Gabriel Davis to go up 24-8 with 5:52 left in the 3rd. Newton connected with Ameer Abdullah five minutes into the 4th quarter for a 23-yard TD pass. Newton failed on a 2-point conversion attempt and the score settled at 24-14. Allen would tie the bow on the victory with a touchdown right before the 2-minute warning on a 14-yard crisp pass to a wide-open Gabriel Davis.

The Buffalo Bills desperately needed a win to keep its playoff hopes going having lost two straight with New England knocking them out of first place and Miami breathing down their throat in the AFC East standings with only three weeks left in the regular season.

Pro Bowler Christian McCaffrey was not with the team Sunday having tested positive for COVID-19. He was already out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury but had been traveling with the team while injured.

Newton, who took a number of big hits throughout the game and could be seen bleeding from the elbow in the 4th quarter, finished 18-of-39 with 156 passing yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Despite his eligibility, PJ Walker did not play. Allen finished 19-of-34 passing with 210 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT.

The Panthers return to action next Sunday hosting Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium (1 p.m., Fox 46 Charlotte).

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