Panthers Hung Tough In Week 1 Loss
By Blake Baxter
Before Sunday’s game between the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks, there was precious little chatter that the Panthers had much of a chance. The Seahawks were, after all, preseason Super Bowl favorites and the Panthers were coming off a 7-9 season that was often worse than their record showed. But few remembered that Carolina stayed with Seattle in their matchup last year, losing by just four points. In addition, the Panthers looked to be an improved squad from a year ago. I posted that if they did a few specific things well, then Carolina actually might have a shot. The Panthers ultimately fell short in Week 1, but they did manage to hang around with a very tough Seattle team – a small step in the right direction for Carolina.
The good news for the Panthers is that they will not have to face the Seahawks defense every week. Their praises were trumpeted going into the season – and rightfully so. They more than lived up to their reputation in this game. Carolina had its share of successes on Sunday, but they were not on the offensive side of the ball. QB Cam Newton entered the season with a lot of pressure on his shoulders and he did not get off to a strong start. In Week 1, Newton posted some of his worst numbers in his three-year NFL career. In fact, his 163 yards of total offense was his lowest total to date.
Prior to the game, I mentioned that Newton would need to spread the ball around and get more guys involved in the offense than usual. Specifically, I mentioned that he should look for guys other than WR Steve Smith and TE Greg Olsen. How did he do? Of the 16 passes completed, three were to RB DeAngelo Williams, one was to wideout Ted Ginn Jr., one was to FB Mike Tolbert and the rest (11) were to Smith and Olsen. In comparison, Seattle QB Russell Wilson completed 25 passes to eight different guys. Furthermore, Newton only attempted to find targets deeper than 10 yards just four times the whole game.
To make matters worse, the Carolina running game was less than spectacular. Williams had to carry the load due to Jonathan Stewart’s injury, as he likely will all season. The Seahawks largely contained the former All-Pro, holding him to 86 yards, but more crucially, forcing him to fumble late in the game for the second year in a row. Tolbert produced little as well, recording 10 yards on four carries. Rookie Kenjon Barner did not see any action in the game, but that could change in the coming weeks if the Panthers fail to get more out of their backfield. Newton, the team’s leading rusher last season, was held to just 38 yards on the ground.
On the defensive side, though, the Panthers did some damage. Carolina’s ferocious front seven was also as advertised. Highly touted second-year LB Luke Kuechly was a force, recording, along with safety Charles Godfrey, a team high nine tackles. Rookie DT Star Lotulelei also made an impact, adding four tackles of his own in his debut. But perhaps Carolina's biggest success was controlling the Seattle running game. As much as Carolina’s running game struggled, the Seattle running attack was comparably worse. Three-time Pro Bowl RB Marshawn Lunch only managed to chew up 43 yards while Seattle’s entire running game as a whole was held to just 70 yards on the day.
The defense held the Seahawks to just three points in the first half, but the troubles came in the secondary. In the fourth quarter, second-year receiver Jermaine Kearse beat Panthers CB Josh Thomas down the line and Wilson connected with him for a 43-yard touchdown. With 10:13 left, the Panthers had plenty of time to come back, but the Seattle defense was too tough. The final score was 12-7 and the Panthers knew that the game was a missed opportunity. It was a familiar outcome – the Panthers lost seven of eight games by seven points or less last season – but they did show promise by staying with a team of Seattle’s caliber. Carolina's strong defensive performance suggests that they have the ability to hang with good teams this season. However, their offense will have to get on track if they are going to start winning close games.