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Carolina Panthers' offense shaky in first outing, but more good than bad

Carolina Panthers 24, Chicago Bears 17

By Scott Fowler
sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

Some random thoughts after Carolina won its preseason opener, 24-17, against Chicago Friday night at Bank of America Stadium:

•  The Panthers had more good things happen than bad, none of their starters got hurt and they won, which means they hit the exhibition trifecta.

•  On Cam Newton’s final pass of the night – returned 51 yards for a touchdown – the quarterback locked in on tight end Greg Olsen on a third-and-2 and forced a throw he never should have made.

“Got to get the cobwebs out,” said Newton, who pleaded for another series after that but was denied by the coaches.

Newton is prone to looking first at Steve Smith (who wasn’t in the game at the time) and Olsen, which is natural. But he must get his other receivers more involved more often. To be fair, his three-yard TD pass went to Brandon LaFell, who really needs to have a big year.

•  If there was any doubt left, Armanti Edwards is going to make this team – again – as a backup receiver. Coach Ron Rivera has said repeatedly the real test will be whether Edwards can make catches in traffic, and he had a couple of good ones Friday.

•  Both of Carolina’s rookie defensive tackles looked good, with No.1 draft choice Star Lotulelei sturdily holding the point of attack.

•  Not a great first night for Ted Ginn Jr. as a receiver – and the Panthers didn’t use him as a returner, which is his forte, because “we know what he can do there,” coach Ron Rivera said. Of the seven times he was targeted, he only caught one and another was intercepted.

Tight end Brandon Williams has a lot of raw talent. He needs to stick around, at least on the practice squad. On a Hail Mary, he would be a serious threat. Newton said afterward Williams has “the body of a Greek god.”

•  The first-team Panthers defense looked better overall in limited work than the Panthers offense. Josh Norman had his first interception to set up the first Carolina TD then, while Luke Kuechly once made tackles on three straight plays and Charles Johnson had a nice sack from the left side.

•  The Panthers’ special teams were solid. Graham Gano banged in a 50-yard, fourth-quarter field goal that would have been good from 60 and then knocked the ensuing kickoff nearly into the stands. The coverage teams didn’t let Devin Hester or anyone else beat them.

•  For those to whom it matters – Newton wore a toboggan on the sidelines instead of a Gatorade towel. “I always get criticized about the towel, but I had to put something on my head,” he said.

•  The Panthers’ fight song somehow had its contract renewed for another year – it was played right after the victory was cinched.

•  The weirdest thing about preseason games is the way they run backwards, with the first quarter being the most important and the fourth played by the third-stringers before a crowd of maybe 5,000 actual fans.

•  Norman said he “double-caught” his first interception – on Jay Cutler’s first pass and the Bears’ first snap of the game. “I missed it and came back and caught it,” he said.

•  As former Panthers great Mike Rucker pointed out, Carolina is trying to use rookie running back Kenjon Barner the way the team once tried to use Mike Goodson. Barner is dynamic and shifty and scored a five-yard rushing touchdown Friday.

But Barner currently has a little bit of the same problem Goodson used to have – fumble-itis. Barner called his first-half lost fumble “unacceptable.” The second one he was involved with was actually credited to Jimmy Clausen, but Rivera said afterward that Barner had reached for the ball instead of letting Clausen give it to him.

•  You’ve got to love that after Norman’s second interception he obeyed an end-zone banner that said “Jump” at the top and jumped right in the middle of the fans. That was the TV highlight of the night for sure.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler
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