ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Panthers did not have a kicker Sunday.
That turned out to be just one of their problems.
The persistent struggles to move the ball — which have plagued them all year — again kept them out of the win column.
The Panthers fell 31-14 to the Bills at Highmark Stadium, their fourth straight loss. That dropped them to 5-9 this season, and they've now lost nine of their last 11.
Of course, the breakdowns on offense have been systemic, and widespread.
Already this year, they've changed play-callers once, started three quarterbacks, star running back Christian McCaffrey has played in just seven games, and they've used 10 different combinations of starting offensive linemen in 14 games.
Those stats override anything particular about the Bills game.
That said, what happened in the below-freezing, windy Western New York conditions was enough to leave anyone cold.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was 18-of-39 for 156 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked four times, including twice by former Panthers defensive end Efe Obada midway through the fourth quarter.
Newton did enough to keep the Panthers within arm's length as a rusher, and the Panthers mixed it up enough to keep it interesting for much of the afternoon. But the Bills, who lead the league in defense, never seemed threatened when the Panthers dropped back to pass.
Newton did have 71 yards rushing, and there were some other interesting moments when the Panthers had the ball.
His second-quarter touchdown run was set up by a 30-yard end-around by wide receiver Robby Anderson. Tight end Ian Thomas had a massive block on that play, getting them in position for the score.
Newton also led a four-play, 43-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, connecting with running back Ameer Abdullah on a 23-yard score to make it a 24-14 game.
— The Panthers could have had points early in the game, if they'd have had a kicker.
But after Zane Gonzalez suffered a right quad injury during pre-game warmups, they were without their most dependable source of points (he had hit 17 straight field goals, with his last miss in Week 4 in Dallas).
That forced the Panthers to go for fourth downs and two-point conversions in places they might not have under ordinary circumstances.
The ensuing two-point conversion pass from Newton to DJ Moore was the sharpest piece of passing game they had all day, with Moore making an impressive one-handed catch. The Panthers were 1-of-5 on fourth down and 1-for-2 on two-point conversions.
Wide receiver Brandon Zylstra kicked off three times, electing to hit line drives. The Bills started those three drives on their own 29-, 26- and 43-yard lines, keeping it from being a disaster.
— The Panthers extended a couple of Bills drives with penalties, one of them from a guy not even on the field.
Defensive tackle Bravvion Roy was flagged for an unnecessary roughness call in the third quarter. He was in the face of Bills quarterback Josh Allen after the play, after Allen had been shoved out of bounds by Yetur Gross-Matos.
Five plays later, Josh Allen threw a laser of a touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis to push the score to 24-8
The Panthers finished the game with five penalties for 55 yards.
— Gross-Matos had his best game of the season. He had five tackles, forced a fumble and his 2.5 sacks on the day equaled his rookie year production.
The 2020 second-round pick had a single sack this season entering the game.
View photos of game action between Carolina and Buffalo in Week 15 of the 2021 season.