Grading the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game at San Francisco.
C+ Quarterback: It was an uneven performance by Cam Newton, who during the first half looked like a QB who’d missed all but one series of the preseason. But Newton found his timing in the second half, completing all six of his passes before the Panthers began running exclusively to salt the win away.
B Running backs: Mike Shula fed Christian McCaffrey early and often, looking to get the rookie heavily involved in the offense. McCaffrey finished with 21 touches for 82 yards, with his 16-yard catch-and-run his longest gain. Jonathan Stewart carried 18 times for 65 yards, and scored on a 9-yard catch.
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I Receivers: This group gets an incomplete because of how little they were involved. Starting wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess were targeted seven times, and finished with a combined three receptions for 45 yards. New slot receiver Russell Shepard made a beautiful spin move on a 40-yard touchdown catch.
A Offensive line: The Panthers made protecting Newton an offseason priority, and the early results were good. The offensive line did not allow a sack and led the way for the clock-killing drive at the end of the game. Left tackle Matt Kalil had a mostly solid debut, although he did give up a pressure to Elvis Dumervil and also had a holding penalty.
B+ Defensive line: Defensive end Wes Horton flies under the radar among Carolina’s edge rushers, but he set the tone with a strip-sack against Brian Hoyer in the first quarter. Julius Peppers and Star Lotulelei later combined for a sack, and Peppers added another pressure.
A Linebackers: Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis combined for 14 tackles, and Kuechly had one of the plays of the game with an interception that he had to reach back to snag. Both were salty on fourth-down stops, as well. Shaq Thompson was active, especially early in the game when he had a sack and a second hit on Hoyer.
B Secondary: Safety Kurt Coleman had six tackles, several of which were of the bone-rattling variety. Cornerbacks Daryl Worley and James Bradberry cramped up on the same second-half play, and received IVs before returning to the game. Bradberry was beaten deep by Marquise Goodwin in the first half, but Goodwin dropped the ball.
B Special teams: So much for firing or trading Graham Gano. The embattled kicker made all three of his field goal attemps and sent all five of his kickoffs out of the end zone. McCaffrey had a 21-yard punt return brought back by a holding penalty on Ben Jacobs.
B Coaching: It was a strong debut by first-year defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who did a nice job mixing in blitzes and picking his spots to be aggressive. Mike Shula rolled out a lot of wrinkles for McCaffrey, but then went with a physical running attack late to salt the game away.