What it means: Ron Rivera is the first NFL coach on the hot seat. Letting rookie quarterback EJ Manuel orchestrate an 80-yard drive for the win with two seconds left will draw loud screams from the critics and rightfully so. It wasn't pretty. For a team that has struggled early the past four seasons and is now 2-14 in games decided by seven points or fewer under Rivera, this was a must-win.
Stock watch: The Carolina linebackers are living up to preseason hype. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, last year's NFL defensive rookie of the year, had a team-best seven first-half tackles and a huge interception in the fourth quarter. Thomas Davis saved a fourth-quarter touchdown by chasing down running back C.J. Spiller from behind. Unfortunately, Kuechly also had a huge pass interference penalty on Buffalo's game-winning drive.
Deep thoughts: Nobody will complain about the Panthers' lack of deep throws -- only three attempts of more than 10 yards in the opener -- this week. Quarterback Cam Newton went deep early and often. He got off to a shaky start, tossing an interception on the first series and once overthrowing his receivers on three consecutive deep passes. He bounced back with a nice 39-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn in the third quarter, and had a pass dropped in the end zone in the fourth. He was inconsistent, but at least the attempts were there.
Too many holes: It doesn't matter how good the defensive front seven is if Carolina doesn't improve in the secondary. Too often Buffalo receivers were wide open, particularly over the middle. It didn't help that Carolina lost starting left corner Josh Thomas (concussion) early in the second quarter, starting free safety Charles Godfrey (ankle) in the third and starting strong safety Quintin Mikell (ankle) in the fourth.
What's next: Carolina returns home to face the New York Giants, the first time new general manager Dave Gettleman has faced his former team. He may have to make a big decision on the head coach soon.