Dolphins vs. Panthers: Carolina's Biggest Winners & Losers from Preseason Week 2

Stephen Fenech@Fenech2491Correspondent IAugust 18, 2012

Dolphins vs. Panthers: Carolina's Biggest Winners & Losers from Preseason Week 2

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    While the Carolina Panthers only beat the Miami Dolphins 23-17 in Week 2 of the preseason, there is no question as to which team is better. 

    The Panthers dominated the first half and proved that they are the superior team. When you consider that the first half is the only one that really matters, Carolina comes out looking even better. 

    Granted, most would have agreed that the Panthers were the better team entering the game, but they had to prove it on the field. 

    Even though they only won by six, the Panthers had few losers. Although the second and third offenses couldn't get anything going, that shouldn't matter when the regular season rolls around in September. 

    While the preseason shouldn't be viewed as concrete evidence as to how a team will turn out, the performance of certain players during these exhibition games will directly affect their careers. 

Winner: Panthers in the First Quarter

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    To say that the Carolina Panthers dismantled the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter would be an understatement. 

    In the first period, the Panthers outscored the Dolphins 17-0, but even that doesn't tell the whole story.

    Carolina accumulated 12 first downs, compared to just one for Miami. Cam Newton threw for 119 yards, while Ryan Tannehill only gained 21 yards through the air.

    It wasn't as if the Dolphins were gaining yards on the ground either, as the Panthers' front seven surrendered just two yards in the first quarter.  

    The Panthers also held the ball for 10 minutes and 53 seconds and wore down the Dolphins defense. 

    If the Panthers are able to play at a level similar to what they did in the first quarter, the rest of the NFC South is in trouble. 

    Carolina dominated Miami in every aspect of the game and built a 17-point lead by the end of the first quarter. 

    The first quarter means the most in preseason football because that is when all the starters play.

    The Panthers looked impressive when it mattered most. 

Losers: Players Who Were Whistled for Holding in the First Half

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    While the Carolina Panthers played an exceptional first half, they committed too many penalties.

    Being more specific, they were called for four holding penalties, which is simply too many. If they hope to be successful this season, they can't put themselves at a constant disadvantage by wiping away positive plays with penalties.

    In most cases, the players that were called were simply lazy and stopped moving their feet, allowing the defender to get around them leading to the holding calls.

    Whistles were blown on lineman Amini Silatou, tight end Gary Barnridge, and wide receivers Louis Murphy and Brandon LaFell. 

    While it is better to get the mistakes out of the way now, the Panthers need to work on being more disciplined so they don't make the same mistakes when the games count. 

Winner: Haruki Nakamura

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    Haruki Nakamura earned the starting nod over incumbent free safety Sherrod Martin for the second straight preseason game. 

    While most expected Nakamura to push Martin, it is impressive that he has passed Martin on the depth chart so quickly. 

    So far in the preseason, Nakamura has looked comfortable in defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's  defense. This is something that Panthers fans should be ecstatic about because solid safety play will go a long way in improving this year's defense. 

    Nakamura is coming from the Baltimore Ravens, who have one of the strongest defenses in the NFL, and knows what it takes for a defense to be stifling. 

    Martin did make a devastating hit on a kickoff return at the end of the first quarter, reminding Panther nation that he can still lay big hits. 

    It will be interesting to see how the free safety battle plays out. But at this point, Nakamura has the advantage. 

Loser: Seyi Ajirotutu

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    Seyi Ajirotutu is competing for the third wide receiver slot, but he didn't do himself any favors against the Miami Dolphins. 

    He only hauled in one pass for six yards, while Louis Murphy had another big game. 

    After Saturday night's game, it seems rather unlikely that Ajirotutu will have any chance to lock up the slot receiver position going into the regular season

    He dropped a perfect pass from Derek Anderson at the end of the second quarter, which is something he couldn't afford to do.

    Simply put, Ajirotutu had to prove that he is a reliable option to move the chains. The easiest way to prove that you aren't reliable as a receiver is to drop easy passes, something that he did in Week 2 of the preseason. 

    At this point, Ajirotutu may have to hold off speedster Joe Adams just to get playing time. 

Winner: Cam Newton

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    While Cam Newton didn't play very well in the preseason opener against the Houston Texans, he redeemed himself against the Miami Dolphins.

    In the three drives that Newton led, he went 8-for-11 for 119 yards and a touchdown. More than that, Newton had no problems leading the offense up and down the field and didn't make a single bad play.

    Panthers fans are expecting nothing but the best from Newton in Year 2. If he plays like he did Saturday night, he will meet those expectations. 

    There shouldn't have been much pressure on Cam entering the second preseason game. But if he didn't perform better than last week, there would have been a little bit of panic in Panther country.

    Once he hit the field, Newton ensured that no one needed to panic about his play.

    He even proved that he would protect his teammates. He was the first to jump in to protect Steve Smith,  who was in the middle of a scuffle with Vonte Davis in the first quarter.

    Newton is proving that he is a quarterback who everyone should want as a teammate, something only a handful of signal-callers can claim. 

    Even after Cam was taken out of the game, he was animated on the sideline and couldn't be happier when his teammates' made positive plays. 

Loser: Greg Hardy

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    The only noticeable play made by Greg Hardy against the Miami Dolphins was when he was flagged for being offsides. It was that bad of a night for the ex-Ole Miss star.

    Adding insult to injury, Thomas Keiser and Frank Alexander combined to sack the opposing quarterback three times in the first half. Considering that Keiser and Alexander are thirsty for more playing time at defensive end, Week 2 of the preseason was a nightmare for Hardy.  

    At this point, time is running out on him as he attempts to become an impact player for the Panthers. They desperately need someone to become a legitimate pass-rusher opposite Charles Johnson, and it doesn't appear as if Hardy is ready to do the job. 

    Hardy still has two more preseason games to make an impact, and he will make the opening day roster. But he has been a disappointment thus far for the Panthers. 

Winner: Thomas Keiser

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    The Carolina Panthers signed Thomas Keiser as an undrafted free agent prior to last season, and they haven't been regretted that decision one bit. 

    Last season, Keiser recorded four sacks in eight games after he was promoted from the practice squad. While he played well in 2011, no one really knew what to make of him entering this season.

    Against the Miami Dolphins, Keiser recorded two sacks in the first half and showed the determination and fight that make Panther Nation love him. 

    There is something about rooting for the underdog to succeed, and that is exactly what Keiser is. 

    Considering that Greg Hardy wasn't impressive, Keiser may have the inside track to earning the other defensive end position opposite Charles Johnson. 

    Keiser doesn't take anything for granted and never quits on a play, something that will earn him playing time. 

Winner: Charles Johnson

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    A strong argument could be made that Charles Johnson was the most dominant player in the game against the Miami Dolphins. 

    When he was in the game, Johnson appeared to be in the backfield on every other play and was an absolute menace.

    It didn't matter whether it was a pass or run. Johnson disrupted both equally. 

    Statistically, Johnson had two tackles and a sack, but that doesn't tell the whole story. While many questioned the contract that the Panthers awarded to Johnson prior to last season, especially since they let Julius Peppers walk the season before, performances like tonight will go a long way in silencing the critics. 

    If the Panthers are to succeed this season, they will need to apply consistent pressure on the opposing quarterbacks while simultaneously stuffing the run. Johnson will be vital in both efforts, thus making him one of the most important members of the team. 

    Considering that the Panthers play in the pass-happy NFC South, Johnson will be even more important due to the proficiency of the quarterbacks in the division.