If you happened to see the first quarter of the Carolina Panthers’ 23-17 preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins last Friday night, you now know the image Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney had when they united 19 months ago.
First, the now-second year head coach and 11th-year general manager were in accord that taking Cam Newton with the top overall pick in last year’s NFL draft was the first major piece to the puzzle. And if he worked out, everything else should fall into place over time.
It’s uncertain if either man even teased the thought of the Panthers becoming NFC South contenders so quickly. But if the team’s second preseason game of the year at Bank of America Stadium was any indication, something special could be on the horizon.
Granted the opponent was the Dolphins, who are in transition themselves, but Carolina’s 17-0 domination of the first quarter looked more like one of those early September college mismatches. The teams were that far apart.
Newton and the Panthers marched down the field on their only three possessions, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal on drives that required eight, eight and five plays.
In the meantime, Carolina’s defense that ranked 28th in the NFL last season in total yards allowed and points allowed got off the field on consecutive three-and-outs before Miami finally notched a first down as the first quarter expired.
By the time the second quarter began and many of Carolina’s starters, especially on offense, had played their final snaps of the night, the stat sheet read: Carolina 152 total yards, Miami 23; Carolina 10 first downs, Miami 1.
This was just a 15-minute snap-shot of football, and who knows what would have happened over the final three quarters in a regular-season game. But the contest had the makings of a whitewashing.
It looked, in some respects, like pockets of last year’s games from an offensive standpoint, like things were coming almost too easily for Cam & Company. But there was even more firepower Friday. The greater difference was the defense, which did bend and break during Miami’s third possession before reasserting its dominance until the very ends of both rosters were on the field.
On top of that, there weren’t any special teams snafus. Thus, it was a complete enough game for mid-August, and offered Panthers’ fans more reasons for optimism, which is already quite high in the Queen City and its surroundings
It might not be wise to predict a team’s immediate future based on 15 minutes of a preseason game, but it also doesn’t require a great deal of understanding to recognize that the Panthers have the goods and should be sharper on both sides of the ball than they were a year ago.
Everything about the team is different – from the attitudes and excitement of the players to Rivera’s handling of the team to Hurney’s work in the offseason (See: Mike Tolbert as Exhibit A).
There’s a different feel with the Carolina Panthers, and it really didn’t need Friday night’s first quarter as confirmation. But given that we saw what we did, it certainly isn’t dampening optimism or expectations.