According to The Charlotte Observer, there was a lot for coach John Fox to like about the way the Carolina Panthers opened their preseason Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium, but not the clunky way they finished off a 23-20 overtime win against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Panthers won on John Kasay's 46-yard field goal with 3 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in overtime, but only after failing to take advantage of two previous game-winning field goal opportunities – a botched snap at the end of regulation and a missed Kasay 51-yarder in OT.
But in the first quarter, when the starters played, Fox could hardly have written a better script.
Defensive end Julius Peppers, awakening from a year of slumber, was explosive and disruptive.
“I think (Peppers) was disappointed last season. He worked hard in the offseason, and I think you saw that on the field tonight,” Fox said.
The first-team offensive line, packed with 300-plus pounders, opened massive holes.
Running back DeAngelo Williams used the space wisely and aggressively, dashing for two touchdowns in the first 3:19 of the game.
Peppers, coming off a lackluster 21/2-sack season, thoroughly dominated Colts left tackle Tony Ugoh. Peppers made a big impression at his new right end position despite not playing beyond the first quarter. He used straight-ahead power, quickness and spin moves to swarm quarterback Jim Sorgi.
On the game's first possession, Peppers sacked Sorgi from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by end Charles Johnson on the Colts' 19. Williams scored on a 1-yard run five plays later.
The next time Indianapolis had the ball, Peppers and defensive tackle Gary Gibson put pressure on Sorgi, resulting in an interception that linebacker Adam Seward returned to the Colts' 10.
Williams took a handoff on the next play and was given so much room to run by his blockers that he cruised into the end zone.
Just like that, it was 14-0 Panthers. And they got that lead with quarterback Jake Delhomme attempting only one pass, an incompletion.
It's worth noting, of course, that the game didn't count in the standings and the Colts were without Manning, their all-world quarterback who stayed home while recovering from knee surgery, and their two best defensive players, end Dwight Freeney and safety Bob Sanders.
Nevertheless, there was a snap, crackle, pop to the Panthers' starting unit that was lacking last season, especially at home.
Carolina even got some late-game heroics from fourth-string quarterback Lester Ricard – not once, but three times.
With the score tied 20-20, Ricard led a 60-yard drive that appeared to set up a short game-winning field goal by Kasay with one second remaining in regulation. However, Jason Kyle had trouble getting his snap off the ground (the ball stuck in the dirt) and Kasay never got to kick.
The Panthers got the ball first in overtime and Ricard went right back to work, hitting receiver Chris Hannon on a 37-yard pass to the Indianapolis 36. That led to Kasay's 51-yard try, but the usually reliable veteran missed.
After the defense held, Ricard got yet another chance and came through again, directing a 37-yard drive to set up Kasay's winning kick.
Richard, who spent last season on Jacksonville's practice squad, completed 6 of 12 passes for 85 yards. His drives were boosted by the running of Decori Birmingham (70 yards on 17 carries).
Early in the game, Williams looked worthy of the starting running back job, shining on a night when first-round pick Jonathan Stewart sat out to rest his sore right big toe.
Williams' best move was probably a run late in the first quarter.
He took a handoff, slowed to let defenders go by him, then changed direction and rambled 10 yards. He followed that with a 14-yard run.
He finished with nine carries for 55 yards.
Delhomme, playing for the first time since early last season after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery, played just two possessions.
Other highlights for the Panthers:
• Second-team quarterback Matt Moore looked sharp, completing 7 of 14 passes for 107 yards and no interceptions.
• Backup running back Nick Goings was quick to the hole and made some nice cuts running the ball (seven carries, 27 yards).
• Receiver Dwayne Jarrett, a 2007 second-round pick trying to make good after a disappointing rookie year, had three first-half receptions for 43 yards.
• Receiver Jason Carter (three catches, 32 yards) continued to make a case that he should make the team and perhaps even get some regular-season playing time.
• Rookie linebacker Dan Connor, a former Penn State All-American, had five unassisted tackles in his pro debut.
• Kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd boomed all but one of his kickoffs into or out of the end zone.
• Carolina's second-team defense didn't fare so well, giving up two second-quarter touchdowns with third-team quarterback Jared Lorenzen directing the Colts' offense.
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