Panthers defeat Miami Dolphins 27-20

August 18, 2018
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Two preseason games down and two victories for the Carolina Panthers. Still working through adjustments and injuries, the Panthers defeated the Miami Dolphins 27-20 in the first home game of the year. 

Highlighted by Christian McCaffrey's 71-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter, there were plenty of positives and negatives for the Panthers to take away with two preseason games remaining.

"One of the main focuses was to start fast, for us to score on the first drive," quarterback Cam Newton said. "For C-Mac (McCaffrey) to have an exceptional run, you've just got to find a way. All in all, I think we did play well. We could have played better." 

Carolina's offensive starters wasted little to no time getting on the board on their first drive. After catching a 9-yard pass, McCaffrey broke free for a 71-yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive. McCaffrey's longest rush during his rookie year last season was 41-yards.

McCaffrey broke off the Dolphins tackles thanks to the help of offensive lineman Greg Van Roten, fullback Alex Armah and tight end Ian Thomas. 

You're not catching @run__cmc!

Christian McCaffrey goes 71 YARDS for the TOUCHDOWN. #KeepPounding#MIAvsCAR pic.twitter.com/jyY61kOJhd

— NFL (@NFL) August 17, 2018

But that is when the already questionable Carolina offensive line began to struggle. Newton was sacked on the two-point conversion attempt by Robert Quinn, making it 6-0 with 11:14 remaining in the first.

"I’m getting used to Matt (Kalil); Matt is getting used to me. I’m getting used to Ryan (Kalil); Ryan’s getting used to me. It’ll come together and that’s what the preseason is for. That’s what we practice for. That’s something we will work on, and we are going to get it right," Van Roten said. 

Quinn continued to have his way with Panthers left tackle Matt Kalil. 

Newton was sacked for a loss of -7 yards on the first play of Carolina's second drive after Kalil lost Quinn in coverage. 

Let’s once again check in on Matt Kalil pic.twitter.com/PXn5wckARB

— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 18, 2018

A drive later,  Kalil once again lost coverage and Newton was sacked for the second time in as many drives for a loss of 9 yards.

"I got beat," Kalil said. "It happens." 

Two plays later, Newton was intercepted by Dolphins CB Xavien Howard for a return of 39 yards to the Carolina 9.

"As the old southern cliche, there's still meat left on the bone," Newton said. "Being greedy with perfection and understanding that from dropped passes to inaccurate passes, C-Mac bailed me out. I have to be better and I have to take full responsibility and accountability for that." 

Trailing 9-6 after a 54-yard FG by Miami's second kicker Greg Joseph, the Panthers began to switch up the offensive line. Greg Van Roten replaced Ryan Kalil at center, Jeremiah Sirles moved to right tackle and Taylor Moton at left tackle

Van Roten caught a big break with a bad snap that Newton fumbled but recovered. The drive finished with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Newton to possible rookie sensation, tight end Ian Thomas, for a 13-9 Panthers lead and one of the bigger moments of the night.

"I saw green grass, so I ran fast," Thomas said.

Ian Thomas scored way too easily here. pic.twitter.com/hEBCtAV2Lj

— Eric Elizondo (@EricElizondo8) August 18, 2018

Thomas received high praise from many teammates after the game.

"He doesn't even know how good he's capable of being," Newton said. "When you see plays like this happen, his natural skill set takes over. He's going to be a key asset for us."

"He (Thomas) does a lot of things well. You couldn't ask him to do any more than he's done so far as a rookie," veteran tight end Greg Olsen said. "He's a good kid. He studies hard, works hard, and it's nice to see him have that success in the game." 

Carolina kept their offensive starters in the game until 2:07 remained in the first half and continued to hand McCaffrey the workload. 

McCaffrey finished the night with five carries, 92 rushing yards, one touchdown and 28 receiving yards. 

"I saw a heck of a gap. It's just my job to hit the hold, find the crease and go. It was a great play." 

With the ups and downs at the offensive line position, Carolina's secondary was another position group to keep an eye on.  

Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson started alongside James Bradberry in the Carolina secondary and Jackson was targeted by the Dolphins offense a handful of times in the first quarter. He missed a tackle on the first Dolphins drive but was able to make up for it with a key third down block. 

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a strong first half, throwing for 100 yards on 14/17 passing.

Starting safety Da'Norris Searcy left the game early to be evaluated for a concussion, giving Rashaan Gaulden first-team snaps. He finished the night with two tackles. 

"I think Rashaan played well, for a rookie coming in and playing as much as he did," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He flashed well. I can't wait to see the tape and really get a chance to break it down." 

Second-year cornerback Corn Elder made noise with a forced fumble in the second quarter and a notable fourth-quarter interception.

"I got an over-route, I trailed the receiver to the last minute and then I undercut him and it was a high ball," Elder said. "I was just trying to tip it to myself and I couldn't get a hold to it the first couple times, then I finally got it. It was an exciting play." 

THIS IS PANTHERS DEFENSE!

✋✋✋ pic.twitter.com/QSdVQbqOtd

— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 18, 2018

Miami struggled to get any offense flowing with their backups in and Carolina's reserves helped put the game away in the second half. 

Other Notable Moments:

-Second-year receiver Curtis Samuel broke out with a 26-yard and 39-yard reception from backup QB Taylor Heinicke in the third and fourth quarter. He finished the game with 65 receiving yards.
Samuel's rookie season came to an end last season against Miami and he made up for it. 

"Last week after we finished the game, I Was like "We play against Miami." When I first went on the field, I looked at the spot where I got hurt and was like, "Man this is crazy." My goal was to go out there and have fun and enjoy the moment." 

-UNC alum and N.C. native running back Elijah Hood scored his second touchdown of the preseason in the fourth quarter in front of his hometown fans. 

"All I can do is go out there and give them my shot. They make plays, and whenever they trust me with the football, whenever I get my rep, I give it 100 percent effort," Hood said. "The chips fall where they lay." 

A little lesson I learned from a great one if you hit them “over and over and over and over and over and over and over again they just not going to want that” @MoneyLynch pic.twitter.com/dJSvFRG994

— Elijah Hood (@EliMHood) August 18, 2018

-Backup left tackle Dorian Johnson struggled when he entered the game for Matt Kalil. In total, the Panthers gave up three sacks and six quarterback hits. 

-Backup running back Cameron Artis-Payne finished the night with seven rushing attempts for 18 yards and a touchdown. CJ Anderson finished with eight attempts for 39 yards.

-Kicker Graham Gano missed a 44-yard FG attempt in the third quarter. 

-Rookie left guard Brendan Mahon left the game late with a calf injury. 

- Defensive tackle Dontari Poe forced a fumble. 

" As a defensive line, we knew we had to push ourselves, had to get to the quarterback. We couldn't let what Buffalo did to us get us down and get us out of our game," defensive tackle Kyle Love said. "We came in today with a great mindset, ready to work and get better and that's what we did." 

The Panthers return home next for Preseason Week Three against the defending Super Bowl Champions New Englands Patriots.