TAMPA, Fla. – The Panthers allowed less than 16 points in just two games last season.
That's two more games than started and ended with linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis both healthy.
Beason and Davis were back in action for Sunday's season opener, and the dynamic duo clearly made a difference for the defense in a 16-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"For the most part I did a pretty good job, but individually I feel like there were some plays I left out there on the field where I could have affected the game more," said Beason, who recorded a game-high 10 tackles. "It's unfortunate we didn't pull this off like I thought we were in position to. They made the plays when they had to and they got the victory, so hats off to them."
Beason went down to a torn Achilles tendon in last year's season opener and missed the rest of the season, while Davis suffered his third major knee injury a week later and also was lost for the season.
"It was an amazing feeling to be back on the field today," Davis said. "I'm extremely thankful to the organization for giving me an opportunity. I was able to go out and play without worrying about it."
The defense got off to a slow start but looked dominant after Beason and Davis turned the tide late in the first half. After the Buccaneers marched to the 1-yard line, Beason and Davis combined to turn away running back Doug Martin just short of the goal line, then Davis closed fast to stuff a play-action pass and force a field goal attempt.
It was an encouraging performance from the defense the rest of the way, though it wasn't enough.
"It's very disappointing," Davis said. "In the second half, we looked like the defense we expected to look like in the first half. We can't start slow like we did today."
NEWCOMER AT NOSE: Veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, signed just one week ago, started and came up with both of the Panthers' sacks, breaking up third-down conversion attempts on consecutive possessions in the third quarter.
"I haven't been here long, but I got some great experience today that will help me play better and faster in the future," Edwards said. "I like what I saw in the second half. I think we can build on that and get better. We've just got to keep improving."
DEFENSIVE BACK DEBUT: Rookie Josh Norman got the start at cornerback and overcame some early jitters and a questionable pass interference call to post a solid debut.
"I started to feel comfortable after the first play, and I got into a little bit of a groove. I thought I did well overall," said Norman, a fifth-round draft pick out of Coastal Carolina. "The defense battled out there and pressed the issue."
MURPHY MAKES SPLASH: Wide receiver Louis Murphy, acquired from the Oakland Raiders in a trade on the eve of training camp, finished with three catches for 63 yards and came up with the Panthers' longest play of the day.
Late in the game, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fired one deep down the right sideline that Murphy hauled in for a 51-yard gain. Once he saw Newton launch the pass, Murphy put his head down to sprint after it and then looked back up and lunged forward to snag the ball just before his momentum carried him out of bounds.
"Cam threw a great ball, and I just tried to make a play," Murphy said. "Looking up slows you down, so I put my head down and started digging.
"That's something I just work on in practice. You don't want to look at it the entire time because you might run out of bounds, and then you just have to relocate it."
QUICK HITS: Wide receiver Steve Smith paced the Panthers with seven catches for 106 yards, including the 700th of his career on his first catch of the game – a 31-yarder in the second quarter. … The Panthers opened on the road for the fifth time in six years. They are now 6-12 in openers, with a 3-6 record on the road and a 3-6 mark at home. … The following seven players were inactive for the Panthers: center Jeff Byers, tackle Bruce Campbell, safety D.J. Campbell, quarterback Jimmy Clausen, defensive tackle Sione Fua, defensive end Thomas Keiser and running back Jonathan Stewart.