The action during a preseason game isn’t usually exciting.
But in the case of the Carolina Panthers’ 28-23 win over the Buffalo Bills Thursday night, it was the pregame warmups that were downright captivating.
After former Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin took a shot at Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s accuracy last week, the two met up at midfield before kickoff to chat with linebacker Thomas Davis. Newton reached out his hand to Benjamin to shake, which Benjamin did not accept.
Davis tried to defuse the situation, and then left the two to have what appeared to be a heated discussion.
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The conversation ended with Benjamin appearing to shrug off Newton mid-sentence, and then Newton making a “goodbye then” motion with his hand and walking away.
Enter preseason game suspense — has that sentence ever been used?
As the game began, Benjamin got the first word. He scored on a 28-yard touchdown catch and leaped into the first row of the stands at New Era Field.
But Newton answered on the following series, driving downfield and handing off to running back Christian McCaffrey for the 2-yard score to tie the game.
And then it was back to the regularity of preseason, ah, “action.”
Three who mattered
Kevon Seymour: Seymour started Thursday night’s game opposite rookie Donte Jackson at cornerback, and was picked on early by his old team. He gave up three passes including Benjamin’s touchdown, and was flagged for pass interference.
Coach Ron Rivera sent Seymour back in with the third string near the end of the game.
Christian McCaffrey: The word to describe how second-year running back McCaffrey was utilized by new offensive coordinator Norv Turner on Thursday night? Efficiently.
McCaffrey had six touches over two series, with four carries for 11 yards (including a 2-yard touchdown up the middle), and two catches for 28 yards (with an 18-yard long).
Newton and Turner looked for McCaffrey in matchups against linebackers as a receiver, allowing the slippery back to work in space. As a runner, McCaffrey had a small slip-up when he tried to leap over a defender close to the line of scrimmage and lost the ball. But tackle Blaine Clausell recovered, and McCaffrey seemed to regain some confidence as a runner after the play, finishing his night with his 2-yard score.
Shaq Thompson: After two huge plays in training camp this week, linebacker Thompson had the first takeaway of the Panthers’ season with an athletic cradle under a tipped ball to end the first quarter. Thompson will be filling in for veteran starter Davis during the first four games of the season as Davis serves his suspension, and appears to have some momentum in doing so.
▪ On the other side of the Newton-Benjamin drama, former Panthers Star Lotulelei, Kaelin Clay and Dean Marlowe exchanged big hugs and laughs with their former Panthers teammates during warmups.
▪ Second-year Buffalo quarterback Nathan Peterman was 7-for-7 for 75 yards and a touchdown, and was spelled by backup A.J. McCarron — not rookie first-round pick Josh Allen.
▪ McCaffrey’s touchdown was set up by an impressive 28-yard catch by receiver Jarius Wright, who ground out several yards after the catch. It was the best play of the day by the Panthers’ first team.
▪ Backup cornerback Corn Elder stuffed the much larger McCarron on a carry at the Panthers’ 8 to hold the Bills to a field goal halfway through the second quarter.
▪ In the second quarter, backup Bills receiver Brandon Reilly broke open a huge 59-yard catch-and-run, and was chased down by veteran safety Colin Jones to prevent the score. But running back Marcus Murphy was able to score to put Buffalo up 17-7 at halftime.
▪ Second-year right tackle Taylor Moton played almost the entire first half at the position, getting some much-needed experience. He will continue to fill in for an injured Daryl Williams, and coaches will likely get him all of the reps that are safe in the preseason to make sure he’s ready by Week 1.
▪ Rookie receiver D.J. Moore also played through the fourth quarter as the Panthers try to assimilate him to the NFL quickly. He finished with four catches for 75 yards.
▪ Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers and veteran center Ryan Kalil did not suit up on Thursday night. Backup Tyler Larsen started at center while Mario Addison and Wes Horton started at defensive end.
▪ Backup Panthers safety Damian Parms, who has impressed in training camp, hurt his shoulder in the second quarter and did not return. Cornerback LaDarius Gunter had to enter the concussion protocol mid-game.
▪ Backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert unfurled a gorgeous 26-yard pass to receiver Mose Frazier, who cradled it for a touchdown with 11:21 left in the third quarter to bring the Panthers within three. Gilbert left the game with 4:15 left in the third quarter, finishing 7-of-12 with 93 yards and the touchdown.
▪ Rookie linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. learned a lesson in the third quarter when he was penalized under the NFL’s new targeting rule. But he also seemed to always be in the right spot, and flew to the ball, hassling third-string quarterback Allen multiple times and sacking him once.
▪ An impressive several yards after a catch by Moore in the fourth quarter set up a 4-yard C.J. Anderson touchdown to put the Panthers ahead 21-17.
▪ Running back Cameron Artis-Payne came in with Gilbert, as most of the first team was replaced by the second team late in the first quarter. Anderson entered the game with about 30 seconds left in the first half. In the third quarter, it was no surprise that the veteran Anderson easily penetrated Buffalo’s second and third-team defense.
▪ Starting cornerback James Bradberry did not suit up on Thursday night. He warmed up prior to the game under the instruction of team doctor Ryan Vermillion and with the defensive backs coaches watching closely, and then headed to the locker room. A league source said holding him out was “precautionary.”
▪ Austin Proehl, who is the son of former Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl and a seventh-round pick by the Bills out of UNC, entered the game in the third quarter.
▪ Newton’s passing line for Thursday night over the course of two series? Six completions on nine attempts for 84 yards, plus a 3-yard rush.
▪ Panthers backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw two touchdown passes, including one to former UNC and Charlotte Catholic star Elijah Hood.