4 turnovers doom Panthers, Bills win 20-9

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A quick peek of the box score and you’d think it was impossible the Buffalo Bills won. They were outgained almost 3-to-1, had only nine first downs and had a nearly 10-minute deficit in time of possession.

Then you see the stat that decided the game and defined Jake Delhomme’s miserable season with Carolina: turnovers.

Delhomme was picked off three more times, and the Panthers committed four turnovers to Buffalo’s none Sunday, allowing for the suddenly surging Bills’ bizarre 20-9 win in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s debut as starting quarterback.

“You can’t really complain about a win,” Bills receiver Terrell Owens said after another quiet day. “Defensively, those guys are keeping us in ballgames.”

Buffalo (3-4) won its second straight despite being outgained 425-167 by getting two more interceptions from Jairus Byrd that set up touchdowns. The Bills recovered Kenny Moore’s fumbled punt late in the fourth quarter and watched John Kasay miss two field goals for Carolina (2-4).

Delhomme’s interception total has reached an NFL-high 13 — with only four touchdowns — and coach John Fox said he’d “evaluate” whether Delhomme keeps his job. Delhomme badly overthrew two passes that led to 14 Buffalo points, and hedged when asked if he should remain the starter ahead of Matt Moore or A.J. Feeley.

“In my heart, yeah, but I mean let’s be honest, I don’t think I’m a dummy,” said Delhomme, whose passer rating is 56.5. “When you’re not playing well offensively, you always have to look at the quarterback.”

Fitzpatrick was hardly spectacular, but he avoided the big mistakes that have doomed Delhomme. Replacing Trent Edwards following his concussion last week, Fitzpatrick was 11 of 22 for 123 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

“He made the plays when we had to make them,” said coach Dick Jauron, who has led the Bills to two stirring wins in a row to take some pressure off himself.

Just like the overtime win over the Jets, the Bills won ugly thanks to their surprising rookie safety.

Byrd, a second-round pick from Oregon, now has five interceptions in three games. The second one Sunday, coming after Carolina’s Steve Smith deflected Delhomme’s overthrown pass, was returned to the Buffalo 27. Fitzpatrick then split two defenders to find Lee Evans for a 2-yard TD and a 14-2 lead early in the fourth quarter.

At that point, the Bills were being outgained 333-95.

Byrd had an easy interception of a badly overthrown ball in the first quarter and returned it to the Carolina 7. Two plays later, Marshawn Lynch was barely touched on a 7-yard run for a 7-0 lead.

“I can’t remember a streak like this,” Byrd said.

Carolina got within 17-9 after Delhomme found Smith for 48 yards on fourth down, then DeAngelo Williams scrambled 15 yards for a TD on another fourth down.

The Panthers got the ball back with more than 5 minutes left, but Moore — who had replaced the injured Captain Munnerlyn — fumbled the punt return. Derek Fine recovered for Buffalo at the 20, redemption for a Bills team that has lost two games with the help of special teams miscues

The defense kept Carolina in it, getting its second safety in three games when Hollis Thomas led a swarm of players to tackle Fred Jackson in the end zone to make it 7-2 at halftime.

The Panthers, without linebacker Thomas Davis (knee), also harassed Fitzpatrick, who badly underthrew Owens on what would’ve been a touchdown. Owens was held to three catches for 27 yards, but it didn’t matter because the Panthers kept self-destructing.

After Kasay missed from 43 and 39 yards, coach John Fox decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Buffalo 13 early in the third quarter, but Paul Posluszny stuffed Jonathan Stewart for a 2-yard loss.

Buffalo entered with the NFL’s worst rushing defense, were without both starting safeties because of injury, and lost starting defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee) early in the first quarter.

Yet Buffalo has won two road games in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2004.

“Never once on the sidelines was there any doubt that we were going to win the game,” Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay said. “Regardless if it’s an ugly win over not, it’s hard to win in this league.”

NOTES: Evans had five catches for 75 yards to go over 5,000 yards in his career. … After being held to one catch last week, Smith had six catches for 99 yards. Smith was emotional after the game as he mourns the death of Robert Taylor, his coach at Santa Monica College. … Panthers TE Dante Rosario (knee) and S Charles Godfrey (ankle) left the game. … Bills FB Corey McIntyre hurt his ankle.

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