The sky is not falling and the season isn’t over before it begins, but the Carolina Panthers have a few things to work out before they play their regular-season opener in Denver in less than two weeks.
Yes, it’s the preseason. But Carolina’s offense – the one that was No. 1 in scoring last season – was putrid in most of Friday night’s 19-17 loss to New England, and there are some obvious holes that need filling.
That Carolina is 1-2 in the preseason doesn’t matter. What’s important is Cam Newton finding some semblance of rhythm before the rematch against Denver.
What the team needs is to get some safety depth and a reliable, healthy punter.
And the question that still needs answering is whether these cornerbacks will have what it takes in the regular season.
Newton came into the third exhibition of the preseason boasting a 126.6 quarterback rating, 13-of-18 passing and one touchdown to no turnovers.
He limped to a 13-for-29 night for 100 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. In his eight first-half series, Newton pushed the offense across midfield just one time. And that play was called back for a holding penalty.
“Instead of forcing things,” Newton said, “just take what they (the defense) give you.”
Newton was high and off to Kelvin Benjamin on his first two throws to his favorite target. When they finally connected, Benjamin had pushed off enough to get a penalty. And the fourth time Newton looked Benjamin’s way, Newton was picked off when he didn’t finish his follow through.
Then came the second quarter, when Newton inexcusably threw a pass intended for Devin Funchess into traffic. It was tipped and intercepted.
Carolina’s offensive line had an excellent night, regularly giving Newton all the time he needed to find a receiver. But often times the receivers let the team down, too.
There were as many as five dropped passes in the first three quarters. Brenton Bersin dropped a key fourth down ball. Ted Ginn Jr. dropped two third-down passes. But the most egregious came in the third quarter – one that encapsulated the night for Carolina.
Newton took the snap – after right tackle Mike Remmers probably got away with a false start – and evaded two would-be tacklers to move right. Tight end Ed Dickson, in his first action of the preseason, was waiting at the goal line when Newton’s soft pass went off Dickson’s fingertips and incomplete.
“Lower those passes. Catch the ball. We’re right where we need to be. Catch the interceptions. Make the sacks. We’re right where we need to be,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re in position to make plays, that’s the best thing about it. It’s not like we weren’t there. It’s not like we were getting our butts whipped. That’s the thing that I’m OK with.
“If we weren’t in a position to make plays, I’d be upset, but I’m not. I’m just disappointed, more so than anything else.”
But the defense held Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo to just nine points with the help of a failed 2-point conversion and a missed field goal. Carolina’s defensive front seven looked as dominant as it has all preseason.
But questions remain at corner. Second-round pick James Bradberry had trouble locating a receiver in the first quarter, and Bené Benwikere allowed a 33-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Chris Hogan (though, to be fair, it was a beautifully thrown ball).
Those questions come a week after Daryl Worley made several mistakes against Tennessee, though he seemed to bounce back Friday night.
The Panthers also have no depth at safety. With four injuries to five backups, the Panthers used undrafted linebacker Brian Blechen at strong safety with the second-team defense.
Veteran safeties Donte Whitner and Stevie Brown, among others, will work out for the team Saturday, and the Panthers will probably sign one simply out of necessity.
Carolina’s punter position has been unsettled ever since Dave Gettleman opted not to re-sign Brad Nortman. Mike Scifres injured his punting leg on his first punt of the preseason, and former Wofford punter Kasey Redfern was left to punt the rest of the night. No doubt Carolina will be monitoring the waiver wire – or possibly looking for a trade – before the regular season begins.
After a day off Saturday, the Panthers will begin installing the plan for the Broncos at Sunday’s practices. There will be plenty of self-evaluation to be done, too.