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Rapid Reactions: Panthers Rally to Win Preseason Opener, 25-24

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Rivera’s Risk Pays Off

Carolina Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera planned to play quarterback Cam Newton and the first-team offense about a quarter. Because Newton went 1-of-6 for 15 yards with just one first down in two drives, “about” turned into “more than.”

Given a third chance to start a drive early in the second quarter, the starting offense saved fans a week’s worth of hand-wringing with an 80-yard touchdown drive against Buffalo’s first-team defense.

Newton completed all four of his passes for 68 yards, including a 38-yarder to Ted Ginn and a 2-yard score to Kelvin Benjamin.

“The first play of the game is a tackle for no gain. The second drive we got off to a little better start, hitting Kelvin on the first play and then went three-and-out,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “We were able to get Kelvin going with a couple passes there at the end and had a good one to Ted (Ginn, Jr.) and then Kelvin closed it off.”

Defensive Ends Lack Any Sort of Luster

Rivera has been waiting for a defensive end to reach out and grab the second starting spot across from Charles Johnson. He’ll have to wait at least another week.

With Johnson sitting out with a sore left calf, Kony Ealy and Frank Alexander started. Neither did much, and Ealy played well into the third quarter. Mario Addison appeared to get the best pressure, but he was penalized for a hands to the face and also missed a sack on quarterback Tyrod Taylor that turned into a 12-yard completion.

Defensive Backups Struggle

The second-team defense had a rough time with the elusive Taylor, who led two second-quarter touchdown drives. The Bills’ backup ran past Ealy twice and went 5-of-8 for 49 yards while adding 47 yards on six carries.

Mixed Rookie Debuts

The Panthers chose to hold out first-round pick Shaq Thompson, who’s been dealing with an iffy hamstring. After a rough first series, second-rounder Devin Funchess made a couple impressive catches and led Carolina wideouts with 53 yards. With Jonathan Stewart sitting out the opener, Cameron Artis-Payne saw the bulk of carries. The fifth-rounder managed just 24 yards on eight attempts.

New-Look Special Teams Looked a Lot Like Last Year

The Panthers’ punt team picked up where it left off, and that’s obviously not a good thing. The usually solid Brad Nortman didn’t have his best night, especially in the first half, but he did uncork a long of 52. Each coverage unit allowed at least one sizable return. There were some better moments, though: Graham Gano nailed a 47-yard field goal heading into the half, cornerback Carrington Byndom had a potential touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff and undrafted rookie Damiere Byrd showed a burst on a fourth-quarter return.

It’s Just the Preseason

There’s nothing to be overly concerned about … yet. The first-team offensive line seemed to hold up well, and the defense played without Johnson and defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

Joe Webb’s first few series were rough, but he led the Panthers on a 91-yard drive in the final two minutes, highlighted by a short toss that undrafted rookie Brandon Wegher took 42 yards for the game-winning touchdown.


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