EJ Manuel doesn’t seem overly concerned with the Buffalo Bills’ struggles putting the ball in the end zone.
The Bills defeated the Carolina Panthers 20-18 Friday night in a preseason game, but struggled turning scoring opportunities into points for the second straight game.
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Buffalo’s first-team offense reached Carolina territory on its first three possessions but managed just three points after being stuffed on a pair of Fred Jackson runs near the goal line. Manuel finished 9 of 13 passing for 96 yards and rookie Sammy Watkins caught his first three passes of the preseason for 21 yards after being shutout in a 17-13 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.
"We did a very good job at executing what we wanted to execute," Manuel said.
Cam Newton didn’t play for Carolina as coach Ron Rivera decided to let him rest his left ankle following offseason surgery.
But Newton’s favorite training camp target Kelvin Benjamin turned in the play of the game.
Carolina’s 6-foot-5, 240-pound wide receiver helped fans forget about Steve Smith for a moment when he hauled in a spectacular 32-yard touchdown reception. Racing down the left sideline, Benjamin stumbled after contact with cornerback Stephon Gilmore but maintained his balance and concentration long enough to haul in a diving catch in the end zone from Derek Anderson.
"Derek threw a great ball and gave me a chance to make a play," Benjamin said. "I got tangled with the corner but never took my eyes off the ball and made the play."
Said Anderson: "We had man coverage on Kelvin, the corner bailed on him and he just made a great play."
Anderson finished 5 of 7 for 65 yards and a touchdown and twice did his best Newton impersonation by running for a first down on third and long. Anderson played three series, but the other two resulted in punts.
"We just need to be cleaner," Anderson said. "Get in and get out of the huddle and see things better."
The Bills reached Giants territory five times on Sunday but managed just one touchdown and two field goals.
It looked like they would score early against the Panthers, with Manuel marching 78 yards behind two grabs by Watkins — his first since joining the Bills as the No. 4 pick in the draft. But Carolina stopped the Bills twice from the 2.
"I was happy for him," Manuel said. "I gave him a high-five and told him, `Welcome to the NFL.’"
Watkins said his chemistry with Manuel is getting better with each passing day.
"It’s building," Watkins said. "We’ve got a long way to go, but at the same time we understand that he’s young and I’m young and we’ll get better."
Buffalo’s first touchdown of the game in the second quarter was set up when Jarius Wynn sacked Panthers third-string quarterback Matt Blanchard and Manny Lawson recovered at the Carolina 28. Dixon scored on a 1-yard run to give Buffalo at 10-6 lead.
Carolina cut Buffalo’s lead to 13-12 in the fourth quarter on a 6-yard touchdown run by Darrin Reaves but Rivera went for the 2-point conversion — and the lead — and the Panthers couldn’t convert.