ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Zay Jones gave himself 24 hours to get over the final moments of Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers, when a potential game-winning touchdown pass glanced off his fingertips and fell to the ground.
It looks as if it will take a whole lot longer to fix the Buffalo Bills’ passing attack, with a new-look receiving group that has stalled to open the season.
After finishing 30th in the league in passing in 2016 (189.8 yards per game), the Bills are in a similar spot to begin this season.
Through two games, the Bills are 27th in passing with an even lower average (162.5 yards per game) than last season.
In Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the Panthers, quarterback Tyrod Taylor didn’t top the 100-yard mark until the team’s final drive — which ended on the incompletion to Jones.
Buffalo’s leading wide receiver, Jordan Matthews, had three receptions for 30 yards. In the opener, the Bills had a total of four receptions by wide receivers in a 21-12 win over the New York Jets.
Through two games, Buffalo’s wide receivers have combined for 11 receptions, 149 yards and one touchdown.
“We certainly have to work on getting better separation and winning our one-on-one’s,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “That’s just not the receivers, that’s our backs, our tight ends, up front, we just have to do a better job of winning our one-on-one’s.”
That may prove difficult with a receiving group that is known more for its subtractions than its additions.
The Bills are without their top three receivers from last season. Sammy Watkins was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in a preseason deal and Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin left in free agency.
Veteran Anquan Boldin joined the team in August, but abruptly retired two weeks later. Chris Hogan also left in 2016 as a restricted free agent.
With Watkins gone, the Bills are without a top-end talent to stretch defenses and present a vertical threat. Matthews was acquired from Philadelphia in a separate preseason trade, but is considered more of a possession receiver.
Jones, a second-round pick out of East Carolina, is a promising young talent who has been thrust into the spotlight earlier than anticipated.
Rounding out the receiver group is veteran Andre Holmes and special teamers Brandon Tate and Kaelin Clay.
Matthews believes it’s too early to draw any major conclusions.
“As far as any criticism on us after two games, I think you’re going to get a little bit of a bigger sample size, if that makes sense,” Matthews said.
“You guys study football. I don’t think there’s been any big receiving games through the first two weeks of the season. And I watch, so I know that for a fact. So I think you need to give it a little more time before you start saying, you know, what’s what and who’s who, if that makes sense.”
It doesn’t appear that a change at quarterback will be part of the solution for Buffalo. McDermott has consistently supported Taylor.
Rookie Nathan Peterman received positive reviews this preseason, but is not considered ready to start at this point.
“I haven’t heard that yet. I guess he gets blamed for everything, but I don’t think so,” running back LeSean McCoy said.
“Tyrod’s a hell of a player. He makes plays and without him we would have had no shot last week. He made some plays, things weren’t blocked well and he got out of it. … I have a lot of confidence in Tyrod and the guys on the team, and the offense does too.”
That places the onus on Buffalo’s wide receivers, who feel that they have something to prove — beginning against the stingy defense of the Denver Broncos (2-0) on Sunday.
“I feel like we’ve beat one-on-one battles,” Holmes said. “It’s just at opportune moments I guess we haven’t. We’ve got to get better, that’s just the bottom line.
“Three points in a game, that’s not good enough. Definitely we’ve got to get better at beating one-on-one battles and that’s what we’ll try to work on. Because we know we can do it.”