By David Rogers. September 13, 2015. JACKSONVILLE, FL — After a tight, mostly defensive battle in the first half that had Carolina leading Jacksonville 10-9 at intermission on Sunday, Carolina cornerback Josh Norman broke things open on the Jaguars first offensive possession of the third period when he stepped in front of a Blake Bortles pass pass and returned the interception 30 yards to paydirt and a 17-9 Panthers lead.
Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense helped seal the season-opening win by controlling ball possession — including three consecutive conversions on third down and long on a 15-play, 64 yard drive that took more than 12 minutes off the clock in the decisive fourth quarter.
Although far from error free, the win was a solid defensive effort by Carolina and an efficient, but fairly ho-hum offensive work by the Charlotte-based NFL football team.
QB Cam Newton completed 18 passes on 31 attempts for 175 yards, but he was sacked twice for aggregate losses of 17 yards and intercepted once.
Newton’s Jacksonville counterpart was 22 of 40 for 183 yards. Unfortunately, he was victimized five times by drive-killing sacks and hurled two interceptions.
Panther running back Jonathan Stewart was the leading ground gainer in this meat grinder of a game on a warm (77 F at kickoff) and humid (55%) afternoon that started out overcast, but quickly turned bright and sunny. On 18 carries, Stewart picked up 56 yards rushing.
Keys to the Game
- Carolina won the battle of turnovers
- Strong Panthers defense, with five sacks and two interceptions
- Steady, if uninspiring offensive performance
On the other end of the former Auburn QB’s passes were nine different receivers. WR Jerricho Cotchery led all receivers with four catches for 45 yards.
In his post-game press conference, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera opened by conceding, “It was a tough, physical win. I’m not satisfied because we made too many mistakes.
Jacksonville is a good football team.
“Jacksonville is a good football team,” Rivera continued. “They really are — and they went out and did some things to get after us. We missed opportunities, and you just can’t miss opportunities when you have them in the NFL. We had too many field goals (2) and that was disappointing because we had some opportunities to put the ball in the end zone…
“Defensively, we gave up a couple of big plays,” said Rivera, now in his 5th year at the helm of Carolina. “We got bad with our initial reads. We missed a couple of tackles and gave them a chance. We had a field goal blocked, which was also disappointing. Again, there were too many mistakes.”
Of some concern for the Panthers was a head injury (concussion) to star LB Luke Kuechly in he second period. When Kuechly staggered in getting to his feet after a tackle of Jaguar WR Rashad Greene late in the half, the Panthers medical staff raced onto the field to evaluate and attend to Kuechly, whom Carolina just signed to a five-year contract extension. The official word to the media during the second half is that he had failed the NFL’s concussion protocol and would be kept out of the entire second half.
There were too many mistakes.
“The only thing I know is they told me he would be in the protocol; that was it,” Rivera told reporters afterwards. “I got it on the sidelines. I haven’t gone in and asked the doctors anything yet. I will check on how everybody came out as far as injuries are concerned. The only other one is Daryl Williams. They were checking his knee and I don’t know what the extent of that is. Again, I haven’t asked yet.”
Asked what he felt of the defensive effort after Kuechly’s late first half injury, Rivera smiled in noting, “The beautiful thing is (the guys) rallied around A.J. (Klein), who held up his end by playing really playing well. I was really pleased with what I got out of A.J. Klein. He is a solid football player. We are rotating him and Shaq (Thompson) and Bene (Bewikere) out with different packages we were running.
“We lost one of the packages,” admitted Rivera, when A.J. moved to Mike (middle) linebacker.”
Rivera also had kudos for Josh Norman’s interception. “He read it pretty clearly and it put him in a position to make a play.”
Turnovers proved to be important turning points in the game, and the Panthers’ advantage was not lost on Rivera. “It’s something we work on,” he observed. “We do not work on punching the ball out and Josh Norman made a terrific play as far as that was concerned. We recovered it (the fumble) and the offense up with another opportunity to score…A lot of good things happen when you win the takeaway battle.”
Next up for the Panthers is a Sunday, September 20th date to host the Houston Texans, which lost to the Kansas City Chiefs on opening day, 27-20. Jacksonville hosts the Miami Dolphins, who were 17-10 winners over the Washington Redskins.
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News