By David Coulson. August 17, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC — Many times, the reality of NFL preseason games becomes the display of the good, the bad and the ugly. Such was the case on Friday night in the Carolina Panthers’ home-opening 27-20 preseason win against the downtrodden Miami Dolphins.
The good for the Panthers included Christian McCaffery’s 71-yard, touchdown scamper on Carolina’s second play from scrimmage and a 27-yard, second-quarter TD strike from quarterback Cam Newton to tight end Ian Thomas on Newton’s final snap of the evening.
A pair of fourth-period touchdowns on the ground from Cameron Artis-Payne and Elijah Hood sealed the victory for the 2-0 Panthers, who piled up 405 yards on what was still a lackluster night at Bank of America Stadium.
McCaffery rushed five times for 92 yards and was also the leading Carolina receiver with four catches for 28 yards in one half of action.
The ugly was evident for both teams…
If you are a Miami fan, you could take encouragement in the performance of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was 14-of-17 passing for 100 yards in just his second game back from the ACL surgery that wiped out his 2017 campaign. Tannahill also showed some good chemistry with his new starting center, former Appalachian State star Daniel Kilgore, even though the Dolphin offense couldn’t crack the red zone in the first half.
The bad included Newton and his offense’s occasional struggles in the first half and some defensive breakdowns that resulted in an early 9-6 Dolphin lead on three field goals. Newton was 9-of-12 for 89 yards, but his TD toss was countered by a costly Xavien Howard interception. The third year cornerback’s INT led to one of the Miami field goals.
“All in all, I think we did play good,” Newton said. “We could have played better. Knowing what this team is capable of, we showed a lot of flashes. We had a quiet 400 yards.”
Showing some maturity as a now-veteran leader in his eighth year as the starting quarterback, Newton said he was far from content.
“I know I still left plays out there,” Newton explained. “As the old, southern cliche goes, there is still meat left on the bone. I still am somewhat dissatisfied, but at the end of the day, bouncing back and finishing on a good note is important.”
There is still meat left on the bones…
The ugly was evident for both teams, represented by a litany of blown assignments, dropped passes and penalties that are often present in early preseason games.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of the night was an illegal contact penalty flagged against Miami linebacker Chase Allen on the third play from scrimmage in the third period. It negated cornerback Jordan Lucas’ 49-yard touchdown return after linebacker Andre Branch forced a fumble by the Panthers’ backup QB Taylor Heinicke.
Considering that the Miami offense failed to score a TD until quarterback Bryce Petty scrambled 15 yards to the end zone in the final seconds, Allen’s penalty was the costliest screwup of the evening for the Dolphins (0-2).
“I don’t know if it’s so much sloppiness, or just … we have to react a little quicker,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “We’ve got two more weeks to clean it up. That’s what our focus has to be.”
Heinicke, the former Walter Payton Award winner from Old Dominion, was 5-of-9 for 88 yards passing, but also threw one interception in his second audition as Newton’s backup.
Despite the uneven play at times, Carolina coach Ron Rivera found some optimistic signs and some areas for improvement as the Panthers prepare for the new season.
“Well, I told you guys it was going to be a good test,” Rivera told a crowded room of reporters. “It’s a good pass rushing defense we faced. We had some opportunities to make plays early on and we missed those opportunities. You have got to be better and certain things happened that we have to be better at, i.e. running the ball exceptionally, which we did and that’s part of what we talked about in training camp.”
The Panthers will get the chance to build on their performance next Friday when they host the New England Patriots at 7:30 p.m. in Bank of America Stadium.