Byron Bell knew he would have his hands full with Chandler Jones entering Friday night’s game against the New England Patriots.
Bell, who was recently named the Panthers starting left tackle, called Jones and the Patriots’ defensive front one of the best in the NFL “by far.”
Jones sacked quarterback Cam Newton twice in the first half and tackled Newton on a scramble during Panthers’ 30-7 loss.
Running back DeAngelo Williams was a much to blame as Bell on the first sack. Bell had Jones engaged well, but Williams’ chip block freed Jones from Bell and allowed the defensive end to slip inside and get to Newton on a third down during the Panthers’ first drive.
Bell said after the game that Williams came to him on the sideline and apologized for the play.
“That didn’t help but it’s not excuse, I have to block him,” Bell said.
The second sack came when Newton was sacked for a 9-yard loss on another third down. Bell didn’t seal off the inside with a running back to his left and allowed Jones to slide inside.
“As the game went on and I found my rhythm, he wasn’t getting close,” Bell said. “I learned something today, that I can’t come out slow. I have to come out fast and firing.”
Bell played well enough in the first two exhibitions that coach Ron Rivera essentially closed the competition at left tackle and said Bell’s job as the Week 1 starter was “fait accompli.”
“For the most part I thought he handled (Jones) pretty good,” Rivera said. “I think there were some things you could put on somebody else but I thought he fought and competed and did what he was supposed to.”
Good start: Rookie Bené Benwikere made his case to be the starting nickel corner after a strong opening in his first exhibition start.
Benwikere, a fifth-round pick in May’s draft, tackled Julian Edelman on the first play of the game on a quick pass from Tom Brady for a gain of 3 yards.
“We watched a lot of their plays and came out, knew once the motion would come back that he would have an out route so I was able to break on it,” Benwikere said. “I didn’t want to bite the cheese before I should.”
On the next series, Brady handed the ball to Shane Vereen as Brady tripped over his feet and fell. Benwikere met Vereen in the backfield and tackled him for a loss of 5 yards on the broken play.
Benwikere had played backup to Charles Godfrey in the first two exhibitions. The Panthers gave Godfrey the first crack at winning the job after slashing his base salary in the offseason and moving him from safety to cornerback while he recovered from an Achilles injury.
Rivera said there’s a good competition at the position between two playmakers, and he and the coaching staff will have to go back and watch the film for further evaluation.
“I definitely think I’m giving a good competition and fighting for it,” Benwikere said. “But I’m just learning. One of my main guys that talks to me is Godfrey. I’m just trying to learn each and every stride as I go.”
Benwikere had 13 interceptions in his final two seasons at San Jose State, and he has flashed the same nose for the ball in training camp and practices.
Benwikere still has to work on his tackling. At 6-foot and 185 pounds, Benwikere took his time bringing down Edelman on the first play of the game and needed a host of Panthers tacklers on the broken play in the backfield.
Keeping quiet: Kelvin Benjamin had more catches Friday than any other exhibition this season, and the numbers surprised him.
Benjamin caught five passes for 47 yards, and he said after the game he wasn’t expecting so many targets.
“I mean really, no, actually,” Benjamin said. “You could go either way with it. We have great receivers across the board. You just got to get open, and when the ball does come to you, catch it.”
Benjamin caught at least one pass against Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, who at one point was considered the top cornerback in the league. Unprompted, Benjamin said Revis didn’t “really talk trash.”
Last week against the Chiefs, Benjamin let a war of words with Chiefs cornerback Chris Owens get to him. He flicked a ball at Owens, head-butted him and then shoved him to draw a personal foul penalty. He expected trash talk from Revis.
“Yeah, I was but I was prepared for it,” Benjamin said. “I told myself I wasn’t going to talk back anyway.”
Observations• Defensive end Greg Hardy reinjured a shoulder bruise suffered early in training camp. He played most of the second quarter with the injury before sitting out the rest of the game. He said after the game he was encouraged that he was able to play through it.
• Brandon LaFell caught his first pass against the Panthers on the second play of the game. He was tackled by Thomas Davis, who is the godfather to one of LaFell’s children.
• The Panthers started the game with six consecutive passing plays, a rarity for one of the league’s leaders in rushing yards since 2008.
• Through three exhibitions, Jerricho Cotchery has one catch for 8 yards. That catch came in the first exhibition against the Bills.
• Defensive end Charles Johnson, who did not make the trip to New England with a hamstring injury, live-tweeted the game from Charlotte. He said Patriots lineman Marcus Cannon, who leg-whipped Johnson last year and forced Johnson to sit three games, was playing dirty Friday night and hoped the defensive line would “get off against him.”
• Running back Jonathan Stewart continued to look impressive, especially in yards after contact. He picked up 20 yards on a pass from Newton despite absorbing contact near the first-down marker.
• Carolina’s punt coverage needs some work. Julian Edelman returned two punts for 51 yards in the first half, including one 30-yard return with a lot of grass in front of him.
• Safety Robert Lester left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. X-rays came back negative.
• Brenton Bersin continued to solidify his spot on the final 53-man roster with two nice 21-yard catches in the third quarter.