By David Coulson. August 24, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC — There were two big questions at Bank of America Stadium Friday night following the Carolina Panthers 25-14 victory over the New England Patriots: What to make of an authoritative exhibition win over the NFL’s most dominant team of the past two decades? And how was quarterback Cam Newton after a head-over-heels, tumbling run on Carolina’s first possession?
While the Panthers were far from perfect in improving to 3-0 in the preseason, Carolina showed enough elements, particularly on defense, to raise hopes just 16 days before the 2018 regular-season opener.
The Panthers limited the potent Patriots (2-1) to three points over the first three periods, built a commanding 25-3 advantage 49 seconds into the fourth quarter and coasted to an impressive 11-point decision.
Newton survived his injury scare in the first quarter after a head-first dive on a rushing attempt to finish 11-of-17 for 142 yards as the Panthers constructed a 9-3 lead in the first half and piled up 203 yards of total offense.
“A lot of things were going through my mind,” Newton said of his risky run. “Most importantly, I was thinking to myself, it’s the preseason, it’s the preseason. What do I do? I want to get the first down, but I want to bring the plane in as smoothly as possible.”
The landing didn’t work out as planned, but Newton was no worse for the wear.
“As I’m thinking all that, my man went low and I tried to avoid the hit and helicopter out of there, or whatever,” Newton further explained. “The helmet came down on my eye, so I’m not feeling the best right now.”
A big shiner for an 11-yard gain and a first down that kept the first Panther scoring drive alive.
Newton took four plays off before returning to the 16-play, 77-yard march that culminated with the first of four Graham Gano field goals.
“I always worry about him,” said Panther coach Ron Rivera. “But that’s him. He plays to win and I’d much rather he didn’t, but he’s going to give us all he has because he wants to do his best out there.”
About the only complaint about the first-unit offense of the Panthers was their play in the red zone, where Carolina had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. But the play of a defense led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson (seven tackles each) made sure that the lack of touchdowns wasn’t costly.
Quarterback Tom Brady was 12-of-18 for 102 yards passing and his backup Brian Hoyer was 16-of-24 for 109 yards, but the Patriots were 5-of-14 on third-down conversions and couldn’t sustain drives until the fourth quarter against the Panthers’ third-team defense.
“I think its a lot of execution that we need to certainly get a lot better at in the next couple of weeks because we play, obviously, next week and then they all count,” said Brady, the NFL’s most iconic signal caller. “If you want to put them in the win column, you want to go earn them. We certainly didn’t play that way tonight. Our execution wasn’t good enough to score points.”
The dour New England coach Bill Belichick wasn’t as insightful as Brady on the Patriots’ woes on Friday.
“The Panthers obviously did a good job tonight … their team played well in all three phases of the game and outplayed us across four quarters,” Belichick said. “We have a lot of work to do and see if we can find a way to do a few things better than we did them tonight.”
Carolina closes out its preseason slate at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, with kickoff at 7:30 pm. The same night, the Patriots preseason comes to an end at the New York Giants.