The Carolina Panthers want to create an aura in Ericsson Stadium, an attitude that will give them an edge in their home lair.
On Saturday night, their attitude was one of indifference. Dropped passes, missed field goals and missed opportunities added up to a 24-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Carolina's third pre-season game. Even the Panther statues outside the stadium yawned.
The game continued a trend from a 40-28 loss at Denver on Aug. 10. The Panthers showed glimpses of new fire on offense but squandered too many opportunities to win before a crowd of 65,231 at Ericsson Stadium.
"When we play at home," Panthers linebacker Carlton Bailey said, "teams have to be afraid to come in here because of the physical punishment, the execution of the offense, the defense laying the wood, the special teams making things happen. That must be present when we play at home."
But this game was decided in large part by what Carolina did wrong.
Some of Carolina's mistakes were downright goofy. Receiver Reggie Jones fumbled a reverse and couldn't pick the ball up on a second try before the Bills dove in to recover. One Kerry Collins throw bounded off the chest of tight end Walter Rasby and landed in a Bills player's lap.
Place-kicker John Kasay, given big dollars last year to give Carolina a dependable kicking game, missed two field-goal attempts.
They weren't the only ones making mistakes. Even the Rev. Billy Graham set the tone when, in an otherwise inspiring invocation, he called owner Jerry Richardson "Mr. Robertson."
Buffalo stuck in its first touchdown in the first half when quarterback Jim Kelly hit tight end Lonnie Johnson for a 29-yard score. In the second half, Steve Christie kicked a 37-yard field goal, Carey Bender scored on a 2-yard run and third-string quarterback Todd Collins hit Henry Bailey for a 36-yard touchdown with 7:58 left.
Losing to the Bills was no shame. Buffalo (2-1 in preseason) is expected to be among the elite teams in the AFC, but Carolina (1-2) hardly got the Bills' best shot. Bills defensive Bruce Smith didn't bother to play and watched from the sidelines in shorts and sandals. Kelly threw all of five passes and Thurman Thomas carried one time.
Carolina, meanwhile, played its starters most of the first half. But the first-team offense couldn't dent Buffalo's defense on the ground and particularly struggled on first down. Carolina had nine first-down rushes in the first half and wound up losing nine yards.
That lousy production reflected an offensive line with three players in positions they may not occupy on opening day. Blake Brockermeyer was tried at right tackle and Matt Campbell (left tackle) and Sean Love (right guard) drew starts with other players injured.
With little room to run, Marquette Smith gained just 10 yards on seven tries and Dino Philyaw had 41 on 13. Third-down specialist Winslow Oliver carried three times for 28 yards.
The passing game was more efficient. Quarterback Kerry Collins, who had completed only 17 of 45 passes in his first two games, was sharp at times. He connected on 13 of 22 throws for 175 yards. He threw two interceptions but only one was his fault. His first bounded off Rasby and landed in the hands of Buffalo's Sean Moran.
Still, Collins was frustrated and angry with the outcome and said the team has to hike its intensity.
"I'm not playing the way I want to play," he said. "But I will. I guarantee I will."
The second interception came when Buffalo pressured Collins and he launched a deep throw that landed in the lap of safety Eric Smedley.
Tight end Wesley Walls and receiver Mark Carrier were the highlights for Carolina.
Walls, a free-agent signed away from New Orleans, once dove to snatch a pass that had been deflected at the line. Another time, he reached across his body to bring in a Collins throw. Carrier reached up to grab a Collins bullet and haul it in for a 9-yard gain on a third-and-5 in the second quarter.
But even when Carolina could string together a drive, it fizzled at the end.
In one case, the Panthers wasted a 48-yard drive when Kasay missed a 47-yard field goal.