If you didn’t recognize most of the men wearing those Carolina Panthers jerseys Thursday night, you are completely forgiven.
Head coach Ron Rivera and his Panthers staff didn’t play a single offensive or defensive starter in the team’s first preseason game, deciding the risk of injury wasn’t worth the reward of knocking off the rust.
The Chicago Bears had much the same idea. They started their best quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky, but all the former UNC quarterback did was hand the ball off three times before exiting the game.
But in this backups-vs.-backups exhibition where the final score really didn’t matter — and wasn’t available for this story anyway, since the game hadn’t concluded at press time — some nice moments emerged for Carolina.
Among them: It took Brian Burns, the Panthers’ No. 1 draft choice, less than one full quarter to get his first NFL sack (and then to adopt a Spider-Man pose after doing so).
Burns’ second sack came a couple of possessions later, and he looked very fast and very ready for the NFL when he played. He’s not going to be a backup for too long if he plays like that all the time.
Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen also made a couple of good throws, once ran for a first down on 4th-and-1, and escaped pressure several times while playing into the second quarter. Allen ended up 7-for-11 for 76 yards and left with Carolina leading, 6-0, although he didn’t get the Panthers into the end zone.
▪ Rookie quarterback Will Grier wasn’t as successful as Allen early. In the first half, Grier didn’t lead the Panthers to any points, threw a bad interception on a relatively short pass over the middle and couldn’t get anything going on a two-minute drill.
▪ The “no starters” edict was a change in philosophy for Rivera, who usually follows that rule in the fourth and final preseason game but not in the first. In Week One of the 2018 preseason, for instance, the Panthers started Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen, Thomas Davis and almost every other notable player.
But Rivera had already said before the game that Newton and Kuechly wouldn’t play, and they were soon joined on the sideline by just about everyone else.
Even placekicker Graham Gano sat out, which meant that recently signed Joey Slye scored the game’s first points with a 42-yard field goal. Slye then banged another one in from 55 yards in the second quarter, and it had lots of room to spare. If nothing else, with two field goals at Soldier Field, Slye might end up kicking for the Bears this season.
▪ The Bears’ kicking woes are so well-known, in fact, that the loudest cheers of the night came when Chicago kicker Elliott Fry had an extra point in the second quarter and a field goal later in the period that gave Chicago a 10-6 halftime lead. He was twice rewarded with standing ovations.
▪ Panthers tight end Ian Thomas left the game with a rib injury in the first half and was described as questionable to return.
▪ If anyone doubts the NFL preseason is far too long, this game was a good example. Once, NFL players needed a lengthy preseason to work themselves back into shape after spending the offseason selling insurance. Now they spend the offseason in the gym, and most of preseason is about trying to stay healthy and avoid contact for the game’s top players.
▪ The Panthers debuted a new patch on the left front of their jerseys that celebrates their 25th season in the NFL.
▪ Running back Elijah Holyfield didn’t help his chances for making the Panthers when he lost a second-quarter fumble. The Bears capitalized with a touchdown drive to take a 7-6 lead.
▪ The Panthers haven’t elected their permanent captains for the season yet. In continuing the theme of the evening, they sent three players who don’t normally start — safety Colin Jones, tight end Chris Manhertz and linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. — out for the pregame coin toss.