After a dominating offensive and defensive performance last week against the Chiefs, the Panthers laid a rather large egg against the Patriots tonight.
Not a whole lot can be said about this game that is extremely kind. The Panthers could not muster much of a challenge against the Patriots tonight, as the offense struggled to get moving down the field. QB Cam Newton would have decent numbers, finishing the night after nearly two quarters of play going 8/12 for 88 yards. The good news for Panthers fans is that five of those eight receptions and 47 of those 88 yards came from Newton connecting with rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin him self looked sharp tonight, making tough catches away from his body, something the former Florida State stand out was criticized for not doing enough of. Outside of that for the first team offense, it was downright ugly.
The defense would do its best to hold the Tom Brady led Patriots from scoring, but we know that can only last so long. Without the services of DE Charles Johnson, the Panthers held up well, allowing only 6 points with the first team defense in the game. Luke Kuechly would be Luke Kuechly, including a dazzling stop on Patriots RB Shane Vareen in the backfield. Kuechly's linebacker counterpart Thomas Davis was on the prowl as well, making several brilliant tackles out in the flats; he would finish the game with a team high seven tackles through two quarters of play.
Once the first team went out though on both sides... things got ugly fast. Brady, who had been relieved would come back in and lead a TD drive to close out the scoring in the second quarter. Everything seemed to go right for the Pats, including K Stephen Gostkowski, who booted a 60 yard FG to end the second quarter. The second half would eventually be filled with poor plays, missed coverages, and quite frankly would end up making this a game many Panther fans would soon want to forget.
The Panthers would also suffer a few minor injuries tonight, with DE Greg Hardy leaving with a bruised shoulder, S Robert Lester with an ankle injury, and QB Matt Blanchard who appeared to have the wind knocked out of him, but didn't return to the game.
Panthers I Loved
Kelvin Benjamin: Seriously, what is more exciting than seeing this guy catch passes from Cam Newton? It is obvious the two have a rapport with one another already, something that should only get stronger as the season goes along. What is even more encouraging is the fact he seems to be making progress on improving how he plays each week. Last week it was getting some separation from the trailing defender. This week it was making nice away from the body catches in traffic. The guy may not be an all-pro this season, but I have a sneaky suspicion that he could be in the future.
Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis: What more can be said about the best duo of LB's in the NFL? I don't say that out of homerism, they simply are. Between Kuechly's hard hitting and Davis' extremely high football acumen, the two form the backbone of this Panthers defense. As long as these two men are roaming the field, this Panthers defense will always be extremely dangerous.
Panthers That Impressed
Joe Webb: This guy deserves a roster spot. Down 30-0 with two minutes left, Webb stepped in for the injured Blanchard, and lead the Panthers down the field going 3/4 for 64 yards and a TD to WR D.C. Jefferson for the Panthers only points of the night. Again, I hope the Panthers can find a way to keep Webb on the roster. He has looked terrific whenever he has seen the field this preseason.
Tavarres King and Brenton Bersin: These two have played themselves into roster spots on this team. King only had one catch in tonight's game, but he has proved to be a good target for whoever has been on the field throwing the ball. Bersin also made two great catches, one of them on a third and long that helped extend a drive. The Panthers need guys willing to do what it takes to help the team succeed. These two are a part of that group.
Brandon Williams: Ole Swole Bones didn't have much of a receiving impact on this game, but boy does that man have some speed! He singlehandedly stopped LB Steve Beauharnais from returning a Derek Anderson interception for a TD. I truly admire Williams' tenacity on that play. That kind of thing doesn't get lost on the coaches.
Panthers That Depressed
The Offensive Line: Yes, yes, they had some decent plays. But for the most part they looked like garbage. Granted G Trai Turner and OT Nate Chandler were not in tonight, they still looked horrible. Newly minted starting LT Byron Bell was abused by DE Chandler Jones for a couple of sacks and looked overwhelmed most of the night. The second string looked even worse, with the back ups committing false starts, delay of games, and even miscommunications with Anderson. In short: they sucked.
The Secondary: After a fantastic outing last week against the Chiefs, the Panthers secondary looked lost against Brady and the Pats tonight. CB Antoine Cason was out of position several times and had a penalty called on him, this a week removed from his brilliant game against Kansas City. Before leaving with an injury, S Robert Lester continued his lackluster preseason form with missed tackles and poor angle taking. Much like the OL: they sucked.
The Last Word
This was meant to be the final dress rehearsal for the first team on both sides of the ball for the regular season. If that indeed was the case, then perhaps we should be planning on what TV to watch the playoffs on. I kid, but in all seriousness, this wasn't an impressive game in any way. This is only the preseason, and anything that occurs should be taken with a grain of relative salt. The fact remains however, that the Panthers were outclassed and outgunned in this matchup against a playoff caliber team. I certainly hope the Panthers can fix the issues this gained bared some light on in the next two weeks. It will be a long season if the don't.
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