Panthers fans, prepare yourselves for the 2008 regular season. There is every indication that this year will match—or top—the best season in the Panthers' history. This season will be one to follow very closely.
The Carolina Panthers defeated the Indianapolis Colts 23-20 at Bank of America Stadium Saturday night.
Less than five minutes into the first quarter, the Panthers were ahead 14-0.
On the third play of the opening drive, Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers bull-rushed Colts' left tackle Tony Ugoh and sacked quarterback Jim Sorgi, forcing a fumble in the process.
That set up a Panthers drive starting at the Indy 19. Running back DeAngelo Williams promptly rushed on three-straight plays for nine, one, and eight yards, bringing the Panthers to the Colts' one. Two plays later, Williams stepped in for a touchdown.
On the first play of the Colts' next series, Sorgi's pass intended for running back Joseph Addai was deflected at the line of scrimmage, but it kept bobbling through the air, far enough to reach Panthers linebacker Adam Seward, who intercepted and returned it 10 yards to give the Panthers starting field position at the opposing 10.
This time it only took Williams one play to drive the ball into the end zone, as he slashed through the Colts' linebackers and secondary, relatively uncontested.
Sorgi then got into a good rhythm, leading the Colts on a 12-play, 56-yard drive that lasted 5:08 and reached the Panthers' 11. However, the Panthers' defense made a stand just outside the red zone, backing Indy up to the 24 with a tackle for loss and sack. The Colts had to settle for a field goal.
Panthers starting quarterback Jake Delhomme, who had not played in a game since Week Three of last year, didn't need to do much, thanks to Williams. He only threw one pass, a one-yard incompletion that would have been a touchdown, to Muhsin Muhammad.
Delhomme didn't get hit, and his surgically-repaired elbow came out of the game just fine.
The new red-zone offensive line looked to be, by far, the best offensive line we've ever had. Granted, I haven't been following the Panthers since 1995—more like 2002 or 2003—but still. That offensive line was INSANE!!
Seriously, I think they pushed the entire Colts defensive line back two or three yards on every play, which opened up the biggest running lanes a Panthers back has ever run through. Simply put, you have to watch this group in action to see how good they really are.
Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who came back to the Panthers this year after spending a few years with the Chicago Bears, looked good in very little action—even for the preseason. He caught one pass for 13 yards, and he was only thrown two passes.
The second and third-team units had varied impressions on me.
The second-team offense was above average. Matt Moore completed seven of 14 passes for 107 yards, the best performance by the Panthers' quarterbacks.
Second-year receiver Dwayne Jarrett began his make-or-break season with three receptions for 43 yards in the first half, and he generally looked much better. It's worth noting that all of his catches were made in traffic.
Running back LaBrandon Toefield, a free-agent acquisition this past offseason, ran for 49 yards on 12 carries. He created some nice plays for himself and showed the ability to get the extra yard.
The second-team defense however, was poor.
Colts third-string quarterback Jared Lorenzen shredded our backup defense with 12 of 23 passes for 117 yards. He also scrambled for 24 yards on one play. Carolina's historical weakness against skilled receiving tight ends continued, as rookie tight end Jacob Tamme burned them for two touchdowns and 57-yards receiving on only five catches.
The few exceptional performances by the backup defense include third-round pick linebacker Dan Connor's team-leading six tackles and defensive back Quinton Teal's interception of a high Quin Gray pass. Defensive back C.J. Wilson also made four tackles.
The backup defense, overall, still has work to do.
The third-team offense got off to a slow start, but eventually got going.
Field general Brett Basanez finished seven of nine passing for 54 yards. He threw one interception and his one incompletion was just a little too high for a leaping Steve Smith to catch. All in all, Basanez got off to a good start to the preseason.
Running back DeCori Birmingham had 70 yards rushing on 17 carries. He made a good first impression, and he made some refreshing hustle plays that you don't always see from NFL starters.
The third-team receivers all got their fair share of touches. Chris Hannon made two grabs for 46 yards, Jason Carter had three catches for 32 yards, Dominique Thompson caught three receptions for 27 yards, Travis Taylor made one catch for 13 yards, and Will Buchanon had one grab for 21 yards. All of them made names for themselves.
Fourth-string QB Lester Ricard was very good. He completed six of 12 passes for 85 yards. He also displayed exceptional composure by leading all three of the potential game-winning drives, including two in overtime and the one that really won the game for us.
This may have been a preseason game, but our starters' play has me really excited for the regular season. Every part of our team looks great so far, except the backup defenses.
But, hey, the regular season is still almost a month away—that should be enough time to work out the kinks. And they're also not our starters, who look awesome!!! In any case, I'm really looking forward to the regular season.