The Carolina Panthers flattened the Washington Redskins Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium 47-3.
The Panthers started out sluggish, and they also got scared silly, early. On the fourth play of the Panthers' second possession, quarterback Jake Delhomme overthrew intended receiver Steve Smith's head by several yards, and the ball was picked off by defensive back Kareem Moore.
On the next drive, Steve Smith suffered a shoulder injury diving for another overthrown ball by Delhomme. His right arm was completely outstretched for the ball, but when he didn't make the catch his right shoulder suffered the hardest impact when he hit the ground. After hitting the ground, Smith writhed on the ground for several seconds.
I'm sure I'm not the only Panthers fan who was thinking that Smith had a separated/dislocated shoulder and he was going to be gone for at least half the season.
But Smith eventually got up and walked off the field with the trainers. He was back on the field for the Panthers' next drive, and his injury was later reported to be a shoulder contusion.
The Panthers offense only turned out three first-quarter points (although it could've scored at least 10 if one of Delhomme's passes to Smith hadn't bounced off Smith's man's helmet), but it exploded for 31 points in the second quarter.
John Kasay added three more points to an initial 3-0 lead three seconds into the second quarter. Geez, that's a lot of three's.
With 8:20 left in the second quarter, the funniest—and coolest—play of the game happened. Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams broke off what looked like a 32-yard touchdown run. However, at the Washington 20, Williams fumbled—he wasn't even touched, he just dropped the ball somehow—and Steve Smith picked it up at the Redskins' 8.
On the second play of the Panthers' next drive, running back Jonathan Stewart ran for a 50-yard touchdown. On this one play in particular, he displayed awareness, power, speed, acceleration, and balance—all of the skills the Panthers drafted him 13th overall for and then some. He found the hole, powered through it behind several great blocks with multiple defenders making vain attempts to tackle him, then accelerated out of the hole. Finally, Stewart kept his balance after being knocked off-center while going full speed by a Redskins defender, and he plowed into the endzone to finish it off.
Not to be outdone by the rookie, on the third play of Carolina's next possession, Williams slashed through the middle of the field for a 60-yard touchdown run.
With just over a minute left in the first half, Delhomme pulled a Peyton Manning and called an audible on a 1st-and-5 at the Washington 24. A few seconds later, tight end Dante Rosario had his first touchdown catch of the 2008 season (okay, fine, preseason, if you want to nitpick) for 24 yards.
That was the end of the Panthers' second quarter performance, but not the end of the starters' offensive outburst.
On a 2nd-and-4 from the Washington 33, Delhomme threw a screen pass to Smith on the right side of the field. Smith proceeded to speed around the hapless Redskins cornerback for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
All in all, the Panthers scored a touchdown—yes, a touchdown, not a field goal, a la 2007—on five—count 'em, five—straight drives. That's gotta be a franchise record, or at least close.
Needless to say, when the starters left their marks had been made.
Delhomme threw for 11-of-19 completions with 159 yards and 2 touchdowns (and 1 interception).
Williams ran for 101 yards and 1 touchdown on 9 carries.
Stewart ran for 100 yards and 1 touchdown on 10 carries.
Smith received for 60 yards and a touchdown on 4 receptions.
Rosario caught 2 passes for 44 yards and 1 touchdown.
Second-year receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who had a dysmal rookie season last year, reeled in 4 catches for 40 yards. While he didn't score a touchdown, he still made some great grabs in traffic.
But all this isn't to say that the defense didn't get in on the action, too.
The Redskins didn't even get close to scoring until the third quarter when the Panthers' second-team defensive unit came in. And even then it only notched a medium-range 38-yard field goal. Better still, that was all they got—after that Carolina's defensive reserves locked the field down.
Speaking of the Panthers' defensive reserves, they showed marked improvement from the first two preseason games, between which they gave up 44 points (24 points in one quarter). But as I said a minute ago, the only points they surrendered last night were the points for the field goal—a vast improvement. I like our reserve defensive units much more now than I did a week ago.
The first-team defense was simply outstanding. The Redskins only got two first downs while it was on the field.
DE Julius Peppers was a force, notching his second sack of the preseason and forcing a fumble in the process as he shoved five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels into quarterback Jason Campbell. He also made three tackles (two solo).
Cornerbacks Richard Marshall and Ricardo Colclough also racked up seven tackles and four tackles, respectively.
Second-year middle linebacker Jon Beason forced a fumble.
Kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd continued to impress, posting two touchbacks and consistently kicking the ball deep into the endzone. This is an area in which the Panthers struggled last year, with placekicker John Kasay kicking off. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Panthers use a roster spot on Lloyd. He's too valuable, even though he's only a kickoff specialist.
The Panthers played the best I've ever seen a Panthers team play last night. It was an utter thrill to watch, and I can't contain my excitement about the upcoming season. Every time I think of Peppers' forced fumble, Rosario's touchdown catch, or Williams' or Stewart's touchdown, I get giddy. Even as I was writing article, I got ecstatic all over again as I remembered all the plays as I wrote about them. Well, most of them, anyway.
Yes, it's only the preseason. The results of these games won't count for anything come Sep.7. But what does matter right now is how teams play. What happens on the field does matter as an indication of things to come, especially in this third exhibition game, which is often thought to be the closest indication of what will happen in the regular season. And the Panthers played astonishingly well last night against the Redskins. I don't know about you, but the regular season couldn't start soon enough.