CHARLOTTE – The first game of Carolina’s 2018 season featured an ending we’ve seen plenty – the Panthers' vaunted defensive line getting after the quarterback to seal a victory.
This time it was defensive end Mario Addison who did the honors, strip-sacking Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on third-and-7 from the Dallas 23-yard line. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn recovered the loose ball with 1:27 remaining, and Carolina salted away a 16-8 victory.
“The guys up front played well like they always do,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “Our defense always starts with them.”
And games, like Sunday’s opener, tend to end with them.
“The outcome was determined by us up front,” said defensive tackle Kawann Short, who recorded two of Carolina’s six sacks. “We knew what those guys were doing all game.”
The game-winning play started with Short and Addison communicating with one another pre-snap.
“(Mario) told me what to do, and I did it,” Short said.
Addison’s recollection was a little different:
“KK said, ‘Mario, I’m going to hit it no matter what.’ I know what that means. That means he’s going to stay in the B gap and not get pushed out.”
Regardless of who said what, the dynamic pass-rushing duo was on the same page when it mattered.
Short occupied the left guard and left tackle, and also got the attention of center Joe Looney. That allowed Addison to wrap inside, and Looney was late in reacting.
“Dak stepped up into it because I think Vernon (Butler) made him step up,” Addison recalled. “Then he saw me and tried to reverse the other way. I’m not going to let a quarterback step up and reverse the other way in my face. So I ran him down. Sack-fumble.”
“Those guys wreak havoc. A lot of havoc,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “I know, I see it every day in practice. Everybody just runs by – obviously you can’t hit the quarterback because of that pretty red jersey – but you hear them yell, ‘Sack!’”
Prescott experienced that without the benefit of the pretty red jersey. His offensive line, touted as one of the league’s best, was no match for the Panthers’ front.
The performance was all too fitting for Eric Washington’s first game as defensive coordinator. The former D-line coach cultivated the “G2X’ mantra – that’s “get to the spot” for those who haven’t been paying attention.
Carolina stopped the run – running back Ezekiel Elliott had just 69 rushing yards – and earned the right to rush the passer. Addison and Co. know what to do from there.
“Eric is a D-line coach at heart,” Addison said with a smile. “He cut us loose, and we showed what we could do.”