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Panthers win, despite starters

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) runs onto the field prior to the start of their preseason game against the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, August 22, 2015.
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) runs onto the field prior to the start of their preseason game against the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, August 22, 2015.

The Miami Dolphins’ starters handled the Carolina Panthers’ starters on offense, defense and special teams.

When the Dolphins’ starters had the ball, they leisurely strolled down the field as if Carolina’s defense was nothing more than a nuisance. They drove 49 yards for a touchdown on their second drive and 63 yards for a touchdown on their third. On the rare occasions they struggled, Carolina’s starters helped by three times jumping offside.

On offense, the Panthers went four and out on their first two drives. On their third, Cam Newton led them to the Miami 2. But the three safe plays they ran, plus a Newton scramble, gained only a yard.

Miami’s starters beat Carolina’s starters 14-0.

Carolina beat Miami 31-30.

The Panthers contributed by by dropping passes. Jonathan Stewart dropped an easy screen pass. Corey Brown dropped two. On the second, he was screened. But you would expect him to catch it, and he’d expect to catch it, too.

Last season, you’ll recall, Corey Brown was Philly Brown, the achieving undrafted underdog. This season he’s a starter, and he changed his name to his given name, Corey. If the drops continue, he’s going to have to change it back to Philly.

You know, of course, that to invest importance in a practice game is to be foolish. But you also know that you’d feel better about your team if its starters had played the way Miami’s did.

Because the reserves rescued the starters, Carolina is 2-0 in exhibitions.

What does a winning preseason record mean?

The last 10 seasons the Panthers twice had winning preseason records, four times had losing preseason records and four times when 2-2.

The two seasons with winning preseason records, they went 12-4 and 8-8 in the regular season. The four times they had losing preseason records, they went 8-8, 7-9, 6-10 and 2-14 in the regular season.

Based on the numbers, then, what do you think a winning or losing preseason record signifies? It signifies nothing.

Of course you’re going to get excited about the reserves when they save the starters and win the game.

You also want to be excited by the starters. From them, you want see life. You want to see the offense convert third downs. The Panthers were 1-7 in first-half third-down conversions.

You want to see a pass or a run, a tackle or a sack that offers hope.

There was some. Greg Olsen was his usual reliable tight end self. He was thrown to four times. Three times he had a chance to make the catch, and three times he did.

Credit Carolina’s offensive line. How many times did you hear the name of Miami tackle Ndamukong Suh or defensive end Cameron Wake? You didn’t.

Shaq Thompson, Carolina’s first-round pick, made an impression with an open field tackle and ran with tight end Jordan Cameron on a deep pass down the left sideline.

Fifth-round pick Cameron Artis-Payne turned in the longest gain of the first half, a 29-yard run. He did what he often has at training camp, using his blockers and patiently waiting for room to run.

Speaking of camp, the Panthers were impressive in Spartanburg. Free-agents and rookies seamlessly merged with the veterans, and there was the sense that the Panthers had something, the something being a chance to be very good.

They still do. The only real qualities about NFL exhibitions are the price fans pay to get in and injuries. The only real losses are the injuries. Two Carolina starters left early – defensive end Frank Alexander and center Ryan Kalil. Alexander tore his Achilles tendon.

The offense did some good work. When third-team quarterback Joe Webb rushed for the late fourth quarter two-point conversion to tie the score, Newton ran onto the field and was the first to congratulate him.

That’s a start.

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