Scott Fowler

‘X’ marks the QB spot as Panthers defense steamrolls Dallas in season opener

Kawann Short wore a black polo shirt after Carolina’s 16-8 victory over Dallas with a logo that read “G2X.”

That turns out to be an appropriate motto, instilled by new defensive coordinator Eric Washington, for the defense in general but for the defensive line in particular.

What does G2X mean?

“Getting to the spot, man,” Short said. “Getting to the quarterback.”

The Panthers did that six times Sunday, beating up the Cowboys’ offensive line and sacking Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott on a half-dozen occasions. Short had two of those sacks and defensive end Mario Addison had the biggest, with a strip-sack of Prescott with 1:39 left that turned into a Captain Munnerlyn fumble recovery.

That play clinched both the game and a happy start to the Dave Tepper era. The new Carolina Panthers owner received a game ball afterward.

This game was clearly won by Carolina’s D. Dallas ran 57 plays, and not a single one of them went for more than 20 yards. The Cowboys didn’t even get their first third-down conversion until the third quarter and finished 2-for-11 in that statistic.

And, best of all, linebacker Luke Kuechly did not get seriously injured. It looked like he might have late in the fourth quarter, when he went down to the ground and stayed there. What was Munnerlyn thinking then?

“Please get up!” Munnerlyn said.

That was the wish of those in Bank of America stadium, too — at least the two-thirds of them who were cheering for Carolina. As expected, Dallas fans must have gobbled up at least 20,000 seats at scalpers’ prices. They do that in every NFL stadium. But those Cowboys fans had little to cheer about until the fourth quarter, when the Cowboys’ one really good drive ended with a TD and a two-point conversion to slice Carolina’s lead in half, to 16-8.

This game never should have been a one-score contest at that point. Carolina’s offense had muffed several scoring chances already: Christian McCaffrey had fumbled the ball away at the Dallas 5. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had played it very conservatively at the end of the first half to only get a field goal when he could have easily taken one more shot at a TD first. An extra-point try got muffed when J.J. Jansen’s snap glanced off of Amini Silatolu’s leg.

So what should have been about 27 points by the offense had dwindled to 16, which meant Dallas still had a chance on its last possession to tie the game, and it was all in the Panthers defense’s hands once more.

And then …

“Those guys wreaked havoc,” said Newton, who was frantically waving a towel at the end to lead cheers for the defense. “A lot of havoc.”

Addison and Wes Horton ended up with 1.5 sacks apiece in the season opener. Linebacker Shaq Thompson got one, too. Kuechly didn’t have a sack, but he ended up with 13 tackles (it seemed like more) and was a huge part of Carolina holding Ezekiel Elliott to a very respectable 69 yards rushing.

“We couldn’t get first downs,” Elliott said. “We couldn’t keep our drives going.”

Whenever Kuechy goes down, of course, everyone worries about a concussion. This was a lower-leg scare, though.

“I just got my knee a little bit rolled up on,” Kuechly said. “But it will be fine. I’m not worried about it.”

Most of the pressure the Panthers mounted on Prescott came with only a four-man rush. That allowed the secondary to always outman the Cowboys and keep everything in front of them — the Cowboys’ only sustained passing success came on underneath routes to Cole Beasley.

It may be this way for awhile, with the Panthers sustaining injuries to both tight end Greg Olsen (foot) and right tackle Daryl Williams (knee) in the game.

Newton was effective running the ball Sunday, but his longest pass completion went for only 19 yards and he ended up throwing for only 161. Offensively, it was a scattershot performance at best for Carolina.

So the defense may have to hold the fort, and it will be far tougher next Sunday in Atlanta against quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones.

Ryan, of course, is known for staying in the pocket.

In “G2X” terms, the Panthers will know where the spot is going to be. They’re just going to have to keep getting to it.

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