Despite Cam Newton scare, Panthers defeat Patriots

August 25, 2018
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In possibly the most anticipated game of the Carolina Panthers preseason schedule, the Panthers got the best of the defending AFC champion New England Patriots 25-14 at Bank of America Stadium on Friday night.

Still undefeated with a 3-0 record in the preseason, the Panthers starters in the first half and backups in the second half proved they can be consistent with another victory. It's just the fourth time in franchise history that the Panthers started a preseason 3-0. 

"I think the pieces are there," tight end Greg Olsen said. "But again, everybody thinks they have a shot right now, so we have a way to go." 

Fans were forced to hold their breath early on when Cam Newton scrambled for 11-yards before being tackled and fumbling. Newton headed to the sideline injury tent to be evaluated after falling on his eye. 

VIDEO: Not the best decision from Cam Newton. The Panthers QB is now in the injury tent pic.twitter.com/lJJzL3k5gK

— Patriots on CLNS (@PatriotsCLNS) August 24, 2018

"A lot of things were going through my mind. Most importantly I was thinking to myself, 'It's preseason, it's preseason. What do I do? I want to get a first down, but I want to bring this plane in as smoothly as possible,'" Newton said. "The helmet came down on my eye. So, I'm not feeling the best right now." 

Newton returned after a few plays, allowing fans to breathe easy. 

"I'm fine. My eye hurts if you can't tell," Newton said. "There wasn't swelling by that time on the field, I just kept telling them my eye hurt as if someone poked me in the eye." 

But things didn't stay injury free. For what now seems like a reoccurring situation, the Panthers lost another offensive line starter. Right tackle Jeremiah Sirles, who made his first start this preseason, left the game with a hamstring injury. 

Injury update: RT Jeremiah Sirles (hamstring) will not return.

— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 24, 2018

Offensively, the Panthers dominated ball possession throughout the first quarter. Carolina held a 12:40 to 2:20 advantage on offense, but was only able to get out of the quarter with two field goals by Graham Gano.

"I was a little disappointed with how we got in the red zone early on and we had to kick field goals," head coach Ron Rivera said. "When you play good teams like this, you have to score touchdowns in order to beat them. We will go back and look at it and get better and correct it." 

On the offensive line, Taylor Moton and Greg Van Roten held down the left tackle and left guard position, respectively, giving Newton and McCaffrey plenty of time and space to work with. 

"I was very pleased with some of the things the veterans did in protecting the quarterback," Rivera said. "Giving him time to throw the ball, some things we did right early on I was really happy about that." 

In the second quarter, New England flipped the script, leading the time advantage on offense 11:43 to 3:17. Once again, the Patriots were only able to escape with a mere field goal. Stephen Gostowski connected on a 27-yarder but missed a 46-yard attempt.

Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson, who was starting in his second game this preseason, made impressive tackles, including a big third down stop on the Patriots drive. 

Lol well you were wrong Donte Jackson with a nasty hit -- #KeepPounding pic.twitter.com/PKLA7lQIwK

— 1UpTopAhk (@OneeUppTop) August 25, 2018

Up front, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson took things into their own hands on defense, almost both single-handedly stopping the Patriots from scoring. Thompson finished the night with seven tackles and two for loss.

"Shaq's a stud and I think we've all known that," Kuechly said. "He's around the ball, he's active, he's really smart and I think that's something that he doesn't get enough credit for. He really understands the game, the defense and he's a luxury that we have had for the last few years." 

WHOA. @ShaqThompson_7 came out of NOWHERE! pic.twitter.com/hHXARnsjrr

— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 25, 2018

Kuechly prevented the Patriots from scoring a touchdown with two huge third down tackles and finished the night with seven tackles and a pass deflection. 

Carolina's starters night came to an end after the second half. Cam Newton, who will likely not play in the final preseason game against the Steelers, finished the night 11/17 for 142 passing yards. In total this preseason, he went 26-38 (68.4 pct) for 315 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a 91.4 passer rating.

"I just want to win. That's it," Newton said. "That's all I want to do. I just want to win. I want to put myself in the best position to make sure I am my best self to accommodate this team and win a lot of football games." 

Leading 9-3 at the end of the first half, the Panthers backups took control of the game in the second half and put the game away.

Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke and running back Curtis Artis-Payne led the Panthers down the field for a seven play, 49-yard drive. Second-year receiver Curtis Samuel once again made second-half plays including a 31-yard reception from Heinicke. 

Heinicke to the pylon!#KeepPounding pic.twitter.com/qRDdtzTMFe

— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 25, 2018

Kicker Graham Gano hit his third field goal of the game in the third quarter, converting on a 47-yarder to bring the Panthers lead 18-3.  

Carolina forced their lone turnover of the game at the end of the third. Backup Patriots QB Brian Hoyer connected with Henry Poggi and Poggi fumbled the ball with a hit by Panthers defensive end Marquis Haynes.

"I feel like my first three games have been progressing," Haynes said. "I'm getting better and better each game. The coaches see it and Mario (Addison) and some of the veterans, they see. I've got to keep contributing what I can and keep on improving." 

1️⃣2️⃣ & 1️⃣

--: @PhotoBowles/@NFL pic.twitter.com/ftQzKEpXcF

— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 25, 2018

In the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert connected with Mose Frazier for the pair's second touchdown connection this preseason and the Panthers put away the game for their straight preseason victory.

"Mose does a great job," Gilbert said. "He and I had a good little rapport last year in the preseason and that's continued on into training camp and this preseason." 

Next week, the Panthers will travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in the final preseason game of the year before returning home to open the regular season up against the Dallas Cowboys on September 9. 

Other notable game notes: 

-Defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. and Marquis Haynes had some big second-half plays. 

"When you watch what they did, and you see the things that they do, they bring some energy to the group," Rivera said. "Both young guys are doing great for us, and we will continue to evaluate." 

-Cornerback Kevon Seymour didn't dress because he had a root canal. 

-Greg Olsen was called in bounds after he caught a first down reception at the end of the first half even though it looked like he was out of bounds, meaning the clock should have been stopped. It led to the Panthers having to kick a field goal instead of going for a touchdown. 

-Jarius Wright hauled in two big receptions to convert on third down. 

-Carolina went 8/15 on third down attempts (53 percent.)