Familiar faces adorn sideline as Bills visit Panthers
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It has all been cordial and polite leading up to this reunion.
Some of that could change when the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers collide Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium.
There won't be many introductions needed even though these teams haven't met since 2013.
With first-year Bills coach Sean McDermott trying to avoid his first loss in his new job, he has lots of familiarity with the opponent. McDermott spent the past six seasons as Carolina's defensive coordinator.
"The problem is, I'm not out there playing," McDermott said, referring to his knowledge of the Panthers' personnel.
Both teams opened the season with victories, so there were good vibes all around. Since then, they have received numerous questions about how well they know each other.
"We have guys who do know (about us)," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "They have an idea. It will be an interesting matchup. ... It will be a nice little homecoming. There is a tremendous amount of familiarity."
McDermott said there will be plenty of friendly greetings when he arrives for the game.
"That part is pretty cool," he said. "That said, it's a business and we've got a job to do. I have an incredible amount of respect for Ron as a man and a coach."
McDermott said his knowledge of the Panthers means only so much if it's not relayed to the Bills in a helpful manner.
"Our guys are going to be out there," McDermott said. "What's most important is what they know, not what I know.
"How you handle it is important. There is a tendency to maybe make an over-adjustment. We just have to be smart with it."
So with that, McDermott wants to concentrate on how to make the Bills better following their 21-12 victory against the New York Jets.
McDermott said he learned plenty in the past from Rivera, then listed countless others in the Carolina organization who made an impact on his career.
"I learned a lot from the players. It's a great organization. They do things the right way," McDermott said. "I have a lot of respect for how they do things. I really appreciate the time I spent there. I also know the work we have to put in. That's where my focus is. It's hard to say an advantage."
There were exciting elements in the opener for Buffalo, with Tyrod Taylor throwing for two touchdowns and LeSean McCoy gaining 110 rushing yards on 22 carries.
"You always want to be balanced," McDermott said, figuring there were chances for more points. "When you're calling a game, it's hard to be completely balanced."
McDermott figures to have a large role devising the defensive scheme. The Bills limited to the Jets to 38 rushing yards.
"We treat every game like its own entity," McDermott said. "There's a lot of good things (to build from). ... Carolina is a talented, talented football team."
But since McDermott departed the Panthers, they added rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. So the familiarity angle ends with McCaffrey, whose role could be expanded each time he heads to the field.
Plus, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had a rough 2016 season, but he's gearing up this season as he comes off an encouraging opener following offseason shoulder surgery.
Now, it might be time to see more formations from the Panthers.
"We did a good job of spreading the football," Rivera said. "I would like to see more mixtures of the receiver combinations."
New Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks had a strong first day in his new role, essentially replacing McDermott.
"We had opportunities to be even better as a defense," Rivera said. "We're by no means where we want to be. We understand this is a young team (especially in the secondary)."
First-year Bills general manager Brandon Beane has been doing a lot of talking about the Panthers this week as well. He spent 19 years in the organization, including the past two as assistant general manager.
Perhaps that's why the Bills have a Carolina flavor on the roster. Backup quarterback and special teams player Joe Webb was grabbed after roster cuts a couple of weeks ago, while fullback Mike Tolbert, who had Pro Bowl credentials with the Panthers, came on board during the offseason.
The Bills added linebacker Jelani Jenkins as a free-agent signing during the week. He arrives having started 34 games in the NFL across the last three seasons, though he didn't stick with the Raiders after training camp. With rookie linebacker Tanner Vallejo out with a knee injury, Jenkins could have a role.
Updated September 13, 2017