Panthers 2-0, but QB Newton still struggling with accuracy

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) gestures after running for a first down against the Buffalo Bills in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton is still looking for his mojo.

The Panthers may be 2-0 this season, but the former league MVP is struggling to find his touch on passes after missing significant practice time in training camp and playing only one possession in the preseason while recovering from a partially torn rotator cuff.

For the second consecutive week, Newton overthrew a receiver on a would-be touchdown pass in Carolina’s 9-3 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

On a third-and-goal at the Bills 1-yard line, Newton threw a pass over the head of intended receiver Christian McCaffrey in the flat with a chance to put the game away. The Panthers settled for a field goal to take a six-point lead and the defense held the Bills out of the end zone to seal the victory.

Newton acknowledged after the game that he’s struggling with his accuracy.

”The expectations that I have for myself, missing layups like that, it’s uncalled for,” Newton said. ”I wish I had about two or three balls back.”

It didn’t help that Newton was sacked six times by Sean McDermott’s defense or that Greg Olsen left the game in the second quarter with a broken foot .

Newton had an injury scare himself, as well.

He was slow to return to his feet following a sack by Jerry Hughes late in the third quarter. The concern was his ankle, which he had surgery on in the past.

”Man, it was scary,” he said. ”I don’t even want to say what I thought happened.”

Newton said he was ”crunched up” on the play, but after being evaluated by medical personnel on the sideline, he returned in time for the next drive, without missing a snap. He led the Panthers to the Buffalo 1-yard-line before they settled for Graham Gano’s third field goal.

”When you get the blood back flowing and you start walking on it and everything picks up, you just gain confidence in it,” Newton said.

Things we learned in Panthers’ 9-3 win over the Bills:

BILLS DEFENSE TOUGH: Lost in the defeat is that the Bills defense is looking pretty stout under McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

They held Carolina without a touchdown, sacking Newton six times and holding Jonathan Stewart to 40 yards on 15 carries.

”We felt good about our matchups up front and getting pressure on the quarterback, doing some things coverage-wise,” said McDermott, who spent six seasons as defensive coordinator for a Panthers unit perennially considered one of the NFL’s best.

But Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander wants more.

”A sack is just a tackle for loss,” Alexander said. ”We need to find a way to get the ball out of there or force an interception.”

BILLS DRAW BENCH PENALTY: A side judge collided with a member of the Bills’ coaching staff on Sunday in a game at Carolina.

Afterward, James Coleman, a 12-year veteran, appeared to be shouting at the Bills’ bench after fellow officials checked on him on the field. The incident occurred several yards onto the field, around the 50-yard line.

The Bills’ training staff tended to Coleman and officials penalized the Bills’ sideline 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play. ”We have to do a better job of staying back,” McDermott said.

BILLS NEED HELP ON OFFENSE: Buffalo’s offense struggled to make first downs – they had 10 to Carolina’s 19 – and LeSean McCoy was limited to 9 yards rushing.

The Bills didn’t get one until midway through the second quarter, and managed just 176 yards. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was the Bills’ leading rusher with 55 yards.

”Part of our scheme is definitely running the football,” Taylor said. ”We have to be able to run the football versus multiple looks.”

Still, Buffalo went into its two-minute offense with a chance to win. Rookie Zay Jones couldn’t haul in a Taylor pass on fourth-and-11 pass at the Carolina 3.

KALIL’S STRANGE INJURY: Two-time All-Pro center Ryan Kalil was a late scratch Sunday with ”a crick in his neck,” according to coach Ron Rivera. It wasn’t clear that Kalil would not be starting until after he participated in pregame warmups.

”That was weird,” Newton said. ”That was really weird. But yet, you’ve just got to roll with the punches.”

Backup Tyler Larsen, a second-year player out of Utah State, made his sixth career start in his place.

”He had a great game,” Newton said.

OLSEN INJURY: Look for the Panthers to lean even more heavily on McCaffrey out of the backfield after Olsen broke his right foot. Olsen is expected to miss significant time with the injury.

McCaffrey was targeted five times and caught four passes for 34 yards.

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