ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – With Sunday's game against Buffalo tied at 14 in the second half, back-to-back takeaways led to back-to-back field goals for the Carolina Panthers.
Those red zone struggles played a major role in the Panthers starting the 2013 season with back-to-back losses.
"It killed us," tight end Greg Olsen said. "That was the difference in the game. It killed us."
The first takeaway occurred with just over a minute to go in the third quarter. Safety Quintin Mikell blitzed and stripped the ball from Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards recovered for Carolina at the Buffalo 16-yard line.
But the Panthers moved just seven yards in seven plays. A first-down pass to wide receiver Brandon LaFell resulted in a five-yard loss. Then came a run for no gain and an incomplete pass.
They settled for a field goal.
The second takeaway occurred early in the fourth quarter on the second play of the ensuing possession. Manuel locked on to wide receiver T.J. Graham over the middle, and linebacker Luke Kuechly stepped in front of the pass for the interception. The Panthers took over at the Buffalo 26-yard line.
Another short field. Another missed opportunity.
This time, the Panthers moved 19 yards in seven plays. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams recorded a sack on third down (giving him 4.5 and a new Bills single-game record).
They settled for another field goal.
"(Our defense) got two big turnovers back-to-back," Olsen said. "To only leave there with six points when the score is 14-14 and make it only 20-14 – that pretty much was the difference."
Quarterback Cam Newton wholeheartedly agreed.
"The defense played lights out, getting two turnovers and giving us a short field," Newton said. "We just have to somehow find a way to translate that into (more) points.
"If we do that, we win the game, hands down."
The field goals following takeaways gave the Panthers the lead, but instead of separating themselves from the Bills, Buffalo kept the deficit to one score. That wasn't enough separation.
"In this league, you have to score touchdowns if you are going to win," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We missed a couple plays, missed a couple blocks. You can't do that in this league. It's too close."
The Bills kept it close with their red zone victories.
And in the end, that set the stage for a dramatic comeback victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"We can't continue to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, continue to say, 'Why does this happen to us?'" Olsen said. "It happens to us because we allow it.
"There's a lot of things during the game that we could have done so it didn't come down to that drive."
Like turning short fields into touchdowns.
"We didn't do that," Rivera said, "and that will come back and get you."