Was that a dud of a season opener or what?
The Carolina Panthers looked dazed and confused for much of their 16-10 loss to Tampa Bay Sunday -- at least from where I sat, which was in front of my TV.
The Panthers fell behind 13-0 at halftime in Tampa, mounted a bit of a comeback effort and then saw it dwindle away when their defense allowed Tampa Bay to run out the final 2:40 or so with two straight first downs.
A few quick impressions:
-- What an awful running game. The Panthers scored 86 points against Tampa Bay last year (averaging 43 in two wins) in large part because they ran the ball so well. This time they were terrible -- and then they stopped trying to run the ball at all in the second half.
-- The Panther rookies really struggled. Luke Kuechly, so good in the preseason, made little impact. Offensive guard Amini Silatolu was worse -- he made an impact, and it was negative. Silatolu just didn't look ready to start. Josh Norman had an interference call. Joe Adams fumbled a punt (though he recovered it).
-- Cam Newton was OK, but not good enough. Newton threw for slightly over 300 yards, but he also had two interceptions and could generate only 10 points. He wasn't helped by the fact he was rushed so well and so often by the vastly improved Tampa Bay defense. He never did really break one of his signature runs.
-- The Panther defense was very subpar in the first half and then pretty darn good in the second (allowing only three points).
-- There were a few highlights: Steve Smith had a fine game overall and rebounded well from a tremendous hit he took. Louis Murphy had a great fingertip grab on a 51-yard pass from Newton. Greg Olsen made a lot of good plays. I thought Jon Beason and Frank Alexander (the lone rookie to make a really positive impact) both did some good things.
But this sort of effort won't get it done. The Panthers were one of the best running teams in the NFL last year, and they became one of the worst Sunday. I thought the worst part of the game for Carolina was its offensive line, which looked overwhelmed and undermanned far too often despite the presence of two Pro Bowlers (Ryan Kalil and Jordan Gross).
I had predicted Tampa Bay would score 16 in this game (but also thought Carolina would score 27). If you hold a team to 16, you should win most of the time in the NFL.
Not this time, though. The Panthers will need to be far better next Sunday against New Orleans in their home opener or they are quickly going to find themselves in an 0-2 hole this season.