CHARLOTTE – Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The offense wanted to start fast.
OK, so that’s not at all that interesting. But when you consider the sluggish start Carolina’s offense had in the preseason opener at Buffalo, it makes what happened Friday night against Miami even more satisfying.
On the Panthers’ second play from scrimmage, running back Christian McCaffrey followed pulling guard Greg Van Roten through a hole on the right side and raced 71 yards for a touchdown.
Hard to start much faster than that.
“Seventy-yard touchdowns are pretty hard to come by,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “We blocked it really well up front. He showed his top-end speed running away from the DBs. It was definitely impressive. That’s how you draw it up.”
But quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers weren’t exactly off and running after McCaffrey’s electrifying score.
Head coach Ron Rivera opted to go for the two-point conversion, which resulted in a sack.
The next series started with another sack. And although Newton nullified the damage with a 12-yard completion to Torrey Smith on third-and-11, his ill-advised throw to Ilsen in double coverage led to an easy interception for Miami cornerback Xavien Howard.
The third and fourth series resulted in three-and-outs, and suddenly a blistering start had turned into a 9-6 deficit.
“I don’t think offensively we were great – that’s probably safe to say,” Olsen said. “We have to be better than that.”
Added Newton: “We have to be more effective and efficient. And just catch a rhythm.”
There was no rhythm to Carolina’s offense – and it didn’t look like it was going to come when Newton started his fifth and final series with a bobbled shotgun snap at his own 12-yard line.
But Newton and the first-teamers on offense were able to end their night on a high note.
They marched 85 yards in eight plays, regaining the lead when Newton connected with rookie tight end Ian Thomas on a crossing route for a 27-yard score.
“I still am somewhat dissatisfied. But at the end of the day, bouncing back and finishing on a good note is important. It affects sleep,” Newton said. “Just knowing the mistakes that were made – we are not far off.
“Little things. Coach is always saying to perfect the small stuff and the big or spectacular plays will happen.”
Newton finished with a respectable stat line: 9-of-12 for 89 yards with the one touchdown and interception.
His widely monitored completion percentage stood at 75 percent against the Dolphins – an encouraging sign for his development in Norv Turner’s offense.
A good night, but not good enough for the quarterback hungry to get back to his MVP form.
“That’s acceptable, but I know I still left plays out there,” Newton said. “Still left meat on the bone.”