Carolina Panthers played the Kansas City Chiefs last night in preseason competition, and the first few series of this game set up exactly the way that some feared. A quality performance from the bend-but-don’t-break defense resulting in a couple of field goals, and an anemic offense struggling to string two positive plays together had some thinking that the curious offseason moves would haunt the Panthers.
Cam Newton looked shaky early on, starting 1-4 with consecutive 3 and out drives. Newton was starting in his first game since the San Francisco playoff. The rust was obvious. His throws were inaccurate (he missed rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin on a seam route after KB beat Sean Smith deep) and he didn’t seem to be comfortable behind his rebuilt offensive line. On the plays where he ran (testing out his surgically-repaired ankle) he looked unsure of himself, unsure of his body. In fact, on the drive preceding the Panthers’ first score some questioned why Newton was still in the game. Ryan Succop notched another FG, and the Chiefs kicked the ball off.
Kenjon Barner started the possession off right, returning the kickoff to the 30. Then Jonathan Stewart ripped off a nice run. Then Cam found Kelvin Benjamin for their first on-field connection of the season. When it was all said and done, the Panthers put together a 60+ yard drive and had taken the lead 7-6. Moreover, the running game that had sputtered under starter DeAngelo Williams flourished under Stewart.
Stewart’s contributions have been limited as of late. Indeed, when he crossed into the end zone Sunday night, it was his first touchdown since November of 2012. Injuries have slowed him down, but there was a time when Stewart was a prominent weapon. His resurgence (if this is indeed what this season holds for him) couldn’t come at a better time. The Panthers will need all of the weapons it can get since the offensive turnover. Speaking of which, Jason Avant snagged a beautiful ball by Cam on the scoring drive, as did Ed Dickson on the following scoring drive.
Perhaps that is the biggest takeaway from the Kansas City game: hope. After months of analyzing and combing over the departures and acquisitions of the team, the fans are finally starting to see what this team can look like when firing on all cylinders. There is talent on the team, just not a lot with experience excelling in the League.
Bane said there can be no true despair without hope. But that doesn’t leave much in the way of excitement without it either. For now Panthers fans can delight that they had two scoring drives against last season’s 5th best scoring defense. It’s a start, and the best news the franchise has had for awhile.