1. RB Cameron Artis-Payne
With running back Jonathan Stewart watching from the sideline like nearly every starter, the Panthers' second-year running back played like a starter – from the very start.
Artis-Payne returned the opening kickoff 22 yards and then refused to give the ball back, carrying it on each of the first five snaps for 28 yards. He finished the night with 77 rushing yards on 18 carries and added a pair of receptions for 18 yards.
"I don't think I showed anything people didn't already know, but in case you missed it, I can play," Artis-Payne said. "You always enjoy getting opportunities like that to showcase what you can do. It was a good night all in all. The offensive line got a great push and blocked well, and the wide receivers blocked well."
Payne, and really the entire running back group, put its best foot forward.
"He ran hard, and he did some really smart things," head coach Ron Rivera said. "As a whole, the running back group played really well."
2. QB Joe Webb
The third-string quarterback did something you rarely see in the preseason – he played the entire game. And yet even knowing the plan, Webb couldn't help but run outside to throw a block for running back Brandon Wegher late in the first quarter.
"I sell out for my teammates. If I see someone break outside and I can throw a block to spring them, I'm going to lay my body on the line," Webb said. "I just encouraged my teammates to go out and have fun, to not worry about anything that goes on upstairs with final cuts – just perform and have fun."
Webb took his own advice, completing 17-of-29 passes for 200 yards.
3. WR Keyarris Garrett
Garrett appeared to add a touchdown pass to Webb's line and a highlight-reel play to his credentials, but his leaping one-handed grab at the end of the first half that had a little Odell Beckham feel to it was nullified by an offensive pass interference call.
"That was terrible call to me. I didn't touch him," Garrett said. "I just ran to the end zone, jumped up and just went for the ball.
"Everybody thought it was a touchdown, so it was still a good moment."
An undrafted rookie, Garrett finished out the preseason strong, but other wide receiver candidates like Brenton Bersin and Damiere Byrd brought it as well.
"It's going to be nerve-racking, but I feel like I did everything I can do," Garrett said. "Hopefully the coaches see it too and see how good of a player I can become. We'll just have to see."
4. K Graham Gano and P Andy Lee
When drives like Garrett's almost-touchdown ended short of the end zone, the Panthers' specialists trotted onto the field. It happened a lot, which was a good thing with Carolina's new punter just joining the field goal operation.
"The first field goal we had tonight was the first time we had been behind the line of scrimmage together," said Gano, who nailed 6 of 7 field goals while breaking in Lee as his new holder. "It was good for us. We had seven reps after not getting any with the team this week in practice. But Andy's been doing this for a long time. I was confident in him already."
Lee also justified the confidence the Panthers showed in him when they traded a middle-round draft pick to the Browns to acquire him earlier in the week. He wasn't able to air out a punt (he's sixth in NFL history in net punting), but all three times with a short field to work with he delivered. Long snapper J.J. Jansen downed one punt at the 8-yard line, Lee forced a fair catch at the 10 on another one, and Jansen recovered a fumble on the other one.
"I felt like it went really well tonight," Lee said. "The first punt, I was nervous. I heard some cheers here and there. That was nice.
"This is a change to begin with, and on top of it I'm home and everybody is excited. It was good to get that out of my system so now I can just play football."
5. DT Vernon Butler
The Panthers' first-round draft choice didn't record any highlight-worthy plays, but he did exactly what the Panthers hope he will do – things that few 325-pounders can do.
"You've always got to run to the ball – run like you're the last person," said Butler, who stuffed a wide receiver at the line of scrimmage on an end-around and tracked down a running back on a catch behind him over the middle. "Everything is starting to fall in place with guys like Star (Lotulelei) helping me out, helping me get better. I just want to keep progressing and getting better."
View game action photos from Carolina's 18-6 preseason win over Pittsburgh.