The Carolina Panthers' most-important moments Sunday night had nothing to do with a completion, an interception, or even a touchdown. Instead, they were three plays that went for minus-19 yards.
Playing in his first game on a surgically repaired ankle, quarterback Cam Newton scrambled three times. The results were an incompletion and two sacks. It's not a good look in the box score, but those plays were ultimately successful. Newton's ankle passed its first real test.
"I haven't pressed the throttle all the way down to the floor until today, trying to see how much I can do," Newton said afterward. "It was kind of like a shock at first. It's one thing where you've got to tell your mind that you're not hurt. I've been treating it as much as possible and trying to do as much as I can to make it feel better so when it's out there you know it's supposed to hurt, and sometimes it does hurt, but it's just like a temporary pain."
Considering his ankle and new receiving corps, Newton was understandably rusty in his preseason debut. Rusty is actually a nice way of describing a Panthers' first-quarter performance that saw them net one yard in three series.
Of course, Newton can be streaky, and good Cam came out for the second quarter. After completing just one of his first five passes, he went three-for-four during consecutive scoring drives.
The final stats on Newton's 2014 debut: 4-for-9, 65 yards, two sacks, a surgically repaired ankle that held up, and two touchdown drives.
"It was kind of embarrassing for me to lead my offense out there and not have a first down," Newton said. "But when we did get things going it was fun to see, fun to sit back and watch."
Newton will likely be forced to watch most of the Panthers' next game. Because of a short week before they travel for Friday's matchup with the Patriots, Carolina coaches are leery about using the third preseason game as a "dress rehearsal."
The starters may not even play a half, but Newton should at least get a few series again. While his ankle was able to survive its first challenge, there's still much more rust to knock off before the regular season gets underway in Tampa Bay.
--The Panthers got something for a guy they were likely going to release for nothing in the next few weeks. Well, conditionally.
Tuesday's night trade of running back Kenjon Barner to the Eagles netted the Panthers a conditional 2015 seventh-round draft pick. In trades like this, the condition is typically one that requires the player to make his new team's 53-man roster.
So, if Barner is still with the Eagles at the end of the month, the Panthers probably get that seventh-rounder. If he's not, they won't.
There are only two backs in Philadelphia guaranteed to make the roster: LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. The guys next in line, Chris Polk and Matthew Tucker, are each battling hamstring injuries.
Barner can also return kicks -- and guess what -- Josh Huff, who had been doing that for the Eagles, sprained his shoulder Friday against the Patriots.
So Barner has a decent shot to stick -- at least temporarily -- especially considering he's reuniting with his former college coach.
"Kenjon will hopefully bring some depth to both our running back and return positions," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said in a statement. "He's obviously a guy I know really well from Oregon, where he had a very productive career. He has a lot of speed, explosiveness and had a knack for making some really big plays. But our plan with him right now is get him in Philadelphia as soon as we can and plug him in at running back and returner and let him compete."
After putting on 15 pounds this offseason, the still-slight Barner fell out of favor with the Panthers in the preseason opener. In his first professional start, he mustered just eight yards on eight carries against the Bills.
The 2013 sixth-round pick rarely saw the field as a rookie. A preseason foot injury set him back, and he didn't stand out among Carolina's deep backfield.
Barner ends his Panthers career playing 25 regular-season snaps, rushing six times for seven yards, catching two passes for seven yards and returning two kickoffs for 17 yards.
--The Panthers are planning to have Byron Bell start the season at left tackle, even though they still have not made it official.
"He's done such a good job, I'm going to say it's a fait accompli," head coach Rivera said after Tuesday's practice. "He and I will sit down and have a conversation about it. I'm going to talk to the coaches to make sure we're all set, we're all confident, we're all comfortable."
The Panthers signed Bell as an undrafted rookie out of New Mexico in 2011. He started all but one game at right tackle the last three seasons.
--After catching a pass that had sailed out of bounds late in the first half Sunday, receiver Kelvin Benjamin exchanged words with Chiefs cornerback Chris Owens. Benjamin then tossed the ball at Owens before adding a head-butt and a shove to the facemask. The Panthers' first-round pick was flagged for unnecessary roughness, knocking the offense out of field-goal range.
"No, he didn't push me," Benjamin said when asked what Owens did to get under his skin. "He was just talking, just being a defensive player, I would say."
FOX cameras captured Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Benjamin having a one-way chat as they went to the locker room for halftime. But Rivera claimed he wasn't necessarily upset at his star rookie.
"I told Kelvin that this is going to happen. A guy is going to try to get inside your head and get you to play outside of your game, and that's what we talked about," Rivera explained.
"This is also one of those things where you have to stand up for yourself. There's a point where you have to draw a line, and a guy has to understand that if you do this and continue to do this then I'm going to draw a line in the sand. I told him that if you want to go get back at somebody, just go make a play."
--It took Jonathan Stewart less than half a quarter to match his touchdown total from the last two seasons. After gaining 17 yards on his first carry, the oft-injured running back had two short scores against the Chiefs.
Before Sunday, Stewart hadn't scored since a loss to the Bucs on Nov. 18, 2012. To find the last time he had more than one touchdown in a game, you have to go all the way back to a win versus the Falcons on Nov. 15, 2009.
"It felt good. It's been a while since I've touched the end zone," Stewart said. "It's good to get my feet wet and get back in the groove of things."
And sure, it's just the preseason, but Stewart's successful return should serve as a reminder that he's still capable of being the team's best back.
"He fights for every yard. I think with that you get some of the nicks and knacks that he gets," center Ryan Kalil said. "I know it kills him to not be able to stay out there all the time, but it's part of the game. When he does get back out there, you realize why he is so special and why you keep giving him chances to come back."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Charles Godfrey vs. Bene' Benwikere at nickel corner. The Panthers converted Godfrey from safety this offseason, but he has struggled. Benwikere, a fifth-round pick in May, saw more snaps with the ones Tuesday, and he should get a chance with the starters Friday against the Patriots.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--T Nate Chandler has been dealing with swelling in his knee and will be held out Friday against the Patriots. Garry Williams will start at right tackle.
--T Garry Williams will start at right tackle with Nate Chandler bothered by swelling in his knee.
--G Trai Turner is unlikely to play Friday after tweaking his groin against the Chiefs. He will be replaced at right guard by Chris Scott.
--DE Charles Johnson has a tender hamstring that will keep him out Friday. Wes Horton will start in his place.
--CB Melvin White missed Wednesday's practice after his back stiffened up in the morning.
--TE Greg Olsen, who was held out Sunday with a sore calf, practiced Tuesday.
--RB Kenjon Barner was traded to the Eagles for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2015 draft.
--RB Jonathan Stewart, the oft-injured back, scored twice, equaling his touchdown total of the last two seasons.
--WR Tavarres King, who had a solid preseason opener, dropped his only target, and came up injured on the same play.
--WR Kelvin Benjamin, the first-round pick, made first big rookie mistake, picking up a penalty after head-butting CB Chris Owens.
--WR Kealoha Pilares sat out with an ankle injury, a tough break for a guy on the roster bubble.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Cam Newton
- Kenjon Barner