PHILADELPHIA – The Panthers knew they needed touchdowns to outscore the Eagles explosive, up-tempo offensive attack. Instead, Carolina kicked three goals in a 14-9 preseason loss to Philadelphia Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
"When you are playing a fast-strike offense that can put points on the board, you can't kick field goals. You have to score touchdowns," head coach Ron Rivera said. "That wasn't good enough."
The Eagles controlled much of the play in a first half featuring both teams' first units. Philadelphia outgained Carolina 257 yards to 162 and had a 17-9 advantage in first downs.
Rivera felt the threat of the run created problems for Carolina's defensive effort to keep that quick-strike offense contained.
"We probably overplayed the play action," Rivera said. "It's all part of it. It stymies your pass rush. You can't allow that play action to stymie you doing your assignment. We started watching the mesh point a little too much in my opinion. I really thought it froze us a little too much."
While the Panthers struggled to convert on third down in the first half (2-for-7), the Eagles' first-team offense was a perfect 4-for-4.
"We didn't do a good enough job on first and second down, getting them into long yardage situations," strong safety Mike Mitchell said. "They were getting a lot of third-and-shorts. That had a lot to do with their success.
"We don't want to be a bend but don't break defense, but I think that's what we were tonight."
Carolina used takeaways to thwart the Eagles' in-rhythm, fast-paced attack.
After the Panthers punted on the game's opening series, the Eagles moved the ball 82 yards in 11 plays – a drive that was kickstarted on the first snap by a roughing the passer penalty on safety Mike Mitchell.
On the 12th play – second-and-three from the Carolina 8-yard line – quarterback Nick Foles bobbled the shotgun snap before tossing a pass under pressure from Panthers defensive end Greg hardy.
Foles' pass went right to cornerback Josh Thomas, who tapped two feet in bounds in the back of the end zone for the interception.
But after a Carolina three-and-out, Philadelphia took a 7-0 lead on a 7-yard run by Foles.
The Panthers responded with a 9-play, 51-yard scoring drive. Running back DeAngelo Williams ran four times for 20 yards, and quarterback Cam Newton completed first down throws to wide receivers Steve Smith and Ted Ginn before Graham Gano converted a 47-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Philadelphia appeared poised to extend their lead as they moved swiftly into Carolina territory on the ensuing possession, but another Panthers takeaway put an end to the drive.
Eagles running back Chris Polk broke into the secondary for an 8-yard gain, but linebacker Thomas Davis pursued and punched the ball free, allowing defensive end Charles Johnson to recover the fumble at the Carolina 19.
The Panthers offense proceeded to move into the red zone for the first time with a 13-play possession, but the drive stalled when a third-down pass for Smith fell incomplete in the end zone. Kicker Morgan Lineberry connected on a 27-yard field goal, and the Panthers trailed 7-6.
Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who finished with 12 carries for 39 yards, had six carries during that series alone.
"We kind of got into a groove, and (offensive coordinator Mike) Shula left the run plays on and we ran it," Williams said. "It felt good out there, being in the groove of the offense, getting a feel for the plays developing. It was a good feel all around."
Eagles quarterback Mike Vick extended the Philadelphia lead to 14-6 late in the first half, engineering a 7-play, 74-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard LeSean McCoy touchdown run with just under a minute remaining in the second quarter.
Newton – who completed eight of 17 passes for 112 yards – and select first-teamers came onto the field for the ensuing series, which resulted in a three-and-out. Vick's hail mary attempt was intercepted by cornerback Josh Norman for the final play of the first half.
Second half scoring was limited to a 32-yard field goal from Gano on Carolina's first possession of the third quarter. The scoring drive was highlighted by back-to-back connections between quarterback Derek Anderson and wide receiver David Gettis for 14 and 21 yards.
Gettis was the standout of the half, finishing with a game-high five catches for 82 yards.
"I'm very excited for David," Rivera said. "He stepped up today and played a very good football game. I told the players, I thought it was a very inspirational effort he gave.
"He's putting pressure on a lot of guys. David is doing the things that he showed earlier in his career. I'm very happy for him."