NFC South: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 4 CAR at NE

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was asked to find a positive after Friday night's 30-7 exhibition loss at the New England Patriots.

"That it is a preseason game," he said.

The 2013 Pro Bowl selection then was asked about the team's performance.

"It should have been better," he said. "I can’t answer [why it wasn’t], but I know we have work to do. It was embarrassing and that is not what we are about.”

Hardy was right on both counts. It was a preseason game, so it's not time to push the panic button. It also was an embarrassment for a team that obviously still has many questions remaining two weeks before the start of the regular season.

Coach Ron Rivers used the word consistent -- or a form of it -- 10 times in answering his first three questions. He used the word disappointment another three times.

"We were not consistent and we expect to be a playoff team and we need to be consistent," Rivera said.

The Panthers didn't look like a playoff team. They didn't protect their franchise quarterback, Cam Newton, who was sacked three times in the first half and at one point left the game with what has been called a back contusion.

The defense that led the league in sacks (60) last season didn't lay a hand on Tom Brady or any of the other New England quarterbacks. Brady completed 17 of 21 pass attempts for 204 yards and a rating of 138.9. The best you can do is 158.3.

X-rays on Newton's back proved negative, but the last thing the quarterback recovering from offseason ankle surgery needed was another ailment. Newton apparently was so disappointed that he dressed quickly (he never does that) and got on the bus without doing interviews (he seldom does that, either).

The performance was so bad that Rivera, who traditionally sits most of his starters in the last exhibition, already has said Newton and others will play on Thursday night at Pittsburgh.

"You know, to me it is very evident that we’ve got to get them out there," he said.

As bad as it looked, there were a few positives. Let's take a look:
  • The first team defense with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly on the field looked solid. In its first three series, New England had only 41 yard on 15 plays. Kuechly sat the rest of the game, proving just how valuable he is.
  • Left tackle Byron Bell actually had a teammate take the blame for one of the two sacks he surrendered to defensive end Chandler Jones. On the first one, Bell was doing a nice job until running back DeAngelo Williams threw a chip block that freed Jones to get inside for the sack. As the game went on, Bell got into a rhythm and did a nice job. "I felt like I learned a lesson today," Bell said. "I can’t come out slow, I’ve got to come out fast, come out on fire. We’ve got to come out fast and come out swinging early. I feel like if we do that we’ll be fine." Bell said Williams apologized on the sideline afterwards.
  • Rookie cornerback Bene' Benwikere looked solid as he got the start at nickel back over Charles Godfrey. The Panthers are giving Godfrey every chance to win the job, mainly because they like his leadership. It will be interesting how this plays out.
  • Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin showed why he's a legit No. 1 receiver, catching five passes for 47 yards. New England's Jones paid him a nice compliment when asked about having to cover the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver.
  • "Kelvin Benjamin, he’s a legit player," Jones said. "I’ve watched him in college and I saw a few glimpses of him tonight. He’s a tremendous player."
  • Running back Jonathan Stewart continued to show he'll be a big part of the offense if he stays healthy, which he hasn't been the past three years. He again showed the burst and strength that once was his trademark, gaining 20 yards on a short pass from Newton.
  • Otherwise, as Hardy said, the Panthers have work to do.

Observation Deck: Carolina Panthers

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
11:00
PM ET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Carolina Panthers could not protect quarterback Cam Newton, who took shots from multiple New England Patriots defenders during a 30-7 preseason loss Friday night.

Newton was shaken up by a blow from Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins on a 7-yard scamper toward the end of the second quarter. Trainers examined Newton on the sideline, and the quarterback missed just one play before rejoining the offense. Newton came out for the first series of the third quarter, then spent the rest of the game in the locker room.

After the game, coach Ron Rivera said Newton sustained a back contusion, and that X-rays were negative. Newton completed 8 of 12 passes for 88 yards. Here are some other thoughts on the game:
  • The Carolina defense started out strong, forcing punts on the Patriots' first two drives -- one of which was a three-and-out -- and allowing a field goal on the third. Once Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly left the game, however, the Patriots took advantage en route to four straight scoring drives. One of those drives, the first without Kuechly, was a 14-play, 91-yard touchdown march with a time of possession of 7:24.
  • Starting left tackle Byron Bell, trusted with protecting Newton's blind side, could not stop Chandler Jones. The third-year defensive end recorded two sacks by zipping around Bell, and also made two big stops against the run.
  • With starting RT Nate Chandler (knee) and RG Trai Turner (groin) out for the Panthers, Garry Williams and Chris Scott got the nod. Williams seemed to have a hard time maintaining his pass protection. On two of the sacks by Jones, Williams and Scott also could not maintain their blocks on the right side as pressure broke down across the line. The duo looked more comfortable with run blocking, but failed to spring any big holes for the backs.
  • Newton established an early rapport with rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin as the two connected five times on six targets for 47 yards, including two catches on Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis. With Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant slated as the other top receivers, Newton needs another player to emerge. While Brenton Bersin did not take snaps with Newton, he ran some great routes, showed strong hands and found space to haul in two catches from quarterback Derek Anderson.
  • The Panthers are shuffling safeties Anderson Russell and Robert Lester while Roman Harper recovers from a toe injury. Russell struggled in coverage on numerous occasions; two instances stood out, when wide receiver Julian Edelman beat Russell on back-to-back plays for 18 and 35 yards, igniting a Patriots drive that led to a touchdown. Lester looked more comfortable when moving up to the line of scrimmage, as seen on a nice tackle of running back James White while shedding a block to the inside.
  • Undrafted rookie Philly Brown and the Panthers' return game couldn't get anything going, as Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski blasted his kickoffs through the end zone.

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