On Saturday night the new look Carolina Panthers took the field at Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte, NC and gave us something to get excited about for the first time in two years. Beating a New York Giants team I believe is on the decline 20-10 in a practice game is not exciting, however the Panthers are a team that looked different, re-invigorated, and improved in almost every aspect of the game. That is exciting.
All three quarterbacks performed well, minus a bad throw by Jimmy Clausen and a couple of misfires by overall #1 draft pick Cam Newton. Clausen, Newton, and veteran back up, Derek Anderson, all led the Panthers on scoring drives, including two touchdowns for a team that did not score an offensive touchdown last preseason and only 17 total touchdowns during the regular season. Better quarterback play is something fans in Charlotte have yearned for since before the team cut ties with long time starter Jake Delhomme after the 2009 season. 240 total passing yards is a big improvement for a team that only averaged 143 yards last year.
Aside from a few fumbles, the running game showed why it should be in the top 10 in the league this year. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson, and even Tyrell Sutton contributed to the Panthers 102 rushing yards. With a healthy offensive line, that can be one of the best in the league, look for this group of runners to help balance a strong offense.
Greg Olsen caught 3 balls for 58 yards and a score. In this new offensive scheme by first yard head coach, Ron Rivera, new tight ends, Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, should flourish. With Gary Barnidge included, the Panther quarterbacks will have several tight end options along with their wide receiving core of Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell.
The special teams had a large impact on this game. Field position was won by the coverage team and the returners, Mike Goodson and Armanti Edwards, combined for 138 yards on 6 returns. New place kicker Olindo Mare showed distance on a 39-yard field goal and hit a 29-yard chip shot. His replacement of the last original Panther, John Kasey, may still sting fans, but it will wear off soon as he will continue to put points on the board.
On the defensive side of the ball the team showed it will be tough to both run and pass against them this year. Holding the Giants offense to only 3 points was huge and gave the offense confidence to take some chances. Missing several starters gave players like cornerback Robert McClain and undrafted free agent Kendric Burney the opportunity to show why they deserve to make the team. Rookie Sione Fua broke through the New York offensive line early and even Everette Brown made a hit on Eli Manning. The Panthers also held kicker David Tynes to 1 out of 4 field goals including one block.
It is going to be a long season and I don’t expect it will be an easy one, but the revamped team has given Panther fans, and us at WFNZ, something positive to talk about for a change.