Instant analysis from the Carolina Panthers’ 23-3 victory at San Francisco:
▪ Panthers’ defense was salty, especially on fourth downs.
San Francisco kept finding itself in fourth-and-short situations, and first-year coach Kyle Shanahan kept going for them. The way the Panthers’ linebackers were flying to the ball, that proved to be a bad idea.
Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly combined for a dozen tackles, while Kuechly made another play – a reach-back-for-it interception vs. Brian Hoyer – that showed again why he’s one of the premiere defensive players in the league, if not the best.
There will be tougher tests to come. But it was a strong showing in Steve Wilks’ first game as defensive coordinator.
▪ Cam Newton was rusty, then he wasn’t.
Newton was predictably rusty early on in his first extended action since Week 17 last season.
He was 8-of-19 for 105 yards in the first half with a touchdown and an interception. He threw too high to several receivers, overshooting a wide-open Ed Dickson in the end zone.
But a 25-yard strike to Kelvin Benjamin late in the half seemed to help Newton find his rhythm. He was 6-for-6 for 66 yards in the second half, the latter portion of which he spent handing off as the Panthers salted away the win.
▪ Graham Gano strengthened his hold on the kicking job.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera and GM Marty Hurney gave Gano a vote of confidence this week, and the veteran rewarded them by hitting all three of his field goal attempts and drilling all of his kickoffs through the back of the end zone.
Gano didn’t have any pressure kicks or 50-yarders. But it was a good showing for a player who looked like he might be losing his grip on his job.