Four Downs: Panthers fall to Pats, faced with unanswered questions

The Carolina Panthers traveled to New England to face the Patriots on Friday, and were handed a 30-7 beatdown. With one more preseason game to play before the game become real, the Pantehrs are still trying to figures some things out.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) gets run over by New England Patriots outside linebacker Jamie Collins (91) in the first half at Gillette Stadium. The Panthers still have questions to answer along the offensive line.

David Butler II / USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers played their third game of the 2014 preseason on Friday night as they traveled to New England, where they lost 30-7 at Gillette Stadium.

Here are four observations from the game:

1. CAROLINA'S SPECIAL TEAMS ARE ANYTHING BUT

Special teams has been a major problem for the Panthers for the last five years, consistently ranking as one of the worst all-around units in the NFL. However, last season Carolina produced one of the best special teams units in the league. But after a stellar 2013, the Panthers have quickly taken a step backward.

Ted Ginn, Jr. was a main reason why Carolina was formidable in the return game last year. Thus far this preseason, the Panthers have looked exactly as they did before Ginn played his one and only season in Carolina.

The Panthers have tried a host of different personnel at returning kickoffs and punts, but none have jumped to the forefront. In fact, all have been subpar, including Friday night.

Carolina retuned one punt for one yard. There were other returns, but penalties negated them. This is a common theme this preseason for the Panthers. Conversely, New England had three punt returns for an average of 20.7 yards each.

Carolina had hoped that Kenjon Barner, whom it drafted a year ago, would be the return man of the future. But he was a vast disappointment, and was traded to Philadelphia for a conditional seventh-round pick this past week.

That leaves Philly Brown, a rookie out of Ohio State, as Carolina's last hope for something positive at that position. He's definitely struggled in preseason action, leaving some in the media to dub him, Philly "Fair Catch" Brown.

The Panthers were able to win quite a few games last season because of their special teams play in crucial moments, but in previous years they lost quite a few games because of a poor showing on special teams. Unless they find a quick fix off the waiver wire in the next couple of weeks, this could plague Carolina all season long.

2. THOMAS DAVIS IS SPECIAL

Last season was arguably the best of linebacker Thomas Davis' career. And considering he performed at such a high level after coming off of three ACL surgeries on the same knee in the span of a little over three years, it's truly remarkable.

Davis is entering his 10th season and he looks to be better than ever. In fact, some would argue that he had a better all-around season than NFL Defensive MVP and teammate Luke Kuechly last year. Incredibly enough, Davis didn't make the Pro Bowl.

So far this preseason, Davis looks even better.

Against the Patriots, Davis led both teams with seven tackles, all of which were solo. He also had two tackles for loss, and was constantly around the ball in just two quarters of play.

Coupled with Kuechly, it very well may be the best linebacker tandem in the NFL. It'd be nice to see Davis get the national recognition he so richly deserves. Again, we're talking about a guy that had three ACL surgeries on the SAME knee.

Incredible.

3. BYRON BELL DIDN'T EXACTLY IMPRESS AT LEFT TACKLE

Earlier in the week, Byron Bell was named the starting left tackle heading into the regular season. It comes after he struggled somewhat in the first preseason game against Buffalo, but did relatively well against Kansas City in the second one.

However, against New England it was downright bad as Chris Jones dominated Bell.

Jones finished with two sacks, six tackles and three tackles for loss in a half. But it really didn't matter whom Bell was trying to block as they routinely provided pressure on Newton, or disrupted the running game in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage.

This certainly must leave some trepidation amongst the coaching staff. After all, Bell gave up the ninth-most sacks in the NFL last season.

But if Bell fails to play well at that position, the Panthers really don't have many other options. It looks as though it's sink or swim with Bell as the left tackle.

4. BRENTON BERSIN CONTINUED TO IMPRESS

Bersin is essentially a walk-on wide receiver, and he's an odds-on favorite to make the team. He's also a favorite among the players and fans.

This is Bersin's third preseason with the Panthers after signing as a free agent out of Wofford two years ago. His first preseason camp, he was cut. Bersin was invited back last season, and made the practice squad. This year, it looks as though he's going to make the 53-man roster.

And it's easy to see why. He never drops a pass, and he constantly seems to produce whenever he's on the field.

Against the Patriots, Bersin had two catches for 42 yards. Both catches were above average receptions.

Bersin certainly has earned his way with hard work and dedication over the last three years. But maybe it doesn't hurt that he grew up as owner Jerry Richardson's neighbor, and went to the same college as Richardson.