- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The Panthers are hoping rookie Kelvin Benjamin helps fans forget about the departure of veteran receiver Steve Smith.

So far, so good.

Benjamin, the team’s first-round draft pick carried over his strong play in training camp in his NFL debut with a spectacular 32-yard touchdown reception in a 20-18 preseason loss Friday night to the Buffalo Bills.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin turned in the play of the game when he raced down the left sideline, stumbled after contact with cornerback Stephon Gilmore but maintained his balance and concentration long enough to haul in a diving catch in the end zone from Derek Anderson.

It’s the type of play the Panthers envisioned Benjamin making when they selected him 28th overall.

“The whole time I was stumbling I kept my eyes on the ball and I followed it all the way to the ground,” Benjamin said. “In a split second I just stuck my arms up between the ball and the ground and caught it before it hit the ground. It was crazy.”

Rivera called Benjamin a young, dynamic player who is living up to his billing as the 28th pick in the draft.

“We knew he had big play ability and those are kind of the big plays we are looking for,” Rivera said.

That was a rare highlight for the Panthers offense, which played without Cam Newton. Newton was held out to further rest his ankle following offseason surgery. Rivera said he expects Newton to play Aug. 17 against Kansas City.

The Bills offense struggled, too.

Buffalo’s first-team offense reached Carolina territory on its first three possessions but managed just three points after being stuffed on a pair of Fred Jackson runs near the goal line.

Quarterback EJ Manuel finished 9 of 13 passing for 96 yards and rookie Sammy Watkins caught his first three passes of the preseason for 21 yards after being shutout in a 17-13 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

Manuel doesn’t seem all that concerned.

“We did a very good job at executing what we wanted to execute,” Manuel said.

Anderson finished 5 of 7 for 65 yards and a touchdown and twice did his best Newton impersonation by running for a first down on third and long. Anderson played three series, but the other two resulted in punts.

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