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Matt Corral looks to "fix the mistakes" after return from last year's injury

Matt Corral

CHARLOTTE – Matt Corral hadn't taken live reps on a football field in almost exactly one year.

But the second-year quarterback, who missed all of the regular-season action in his rookie year with a Lisfranc injury from last preseason, didn't want that to be an excuse for what he called a "lack of execution" in his return during Saturday's 27-0 preseason opener loss to the Jets.

"It was night and day," Corral said of the difference between last year on the sideline to suiting back up in full pads. "I was anxious the first two snaps. But after that first series, finally getting back in the rhythm of things, I definitely missed that feeling of (I) may or may not get hit this rep; I'm live.

"I haven't played football, really since last August, and that's a long time. Note that's not an excuse for me making mistakes. I've got to do my job. But it's definitely – blessed to be out there and get on the field. (I'm) going to fix what was wrong, fix the mistakes."

Corral took all the snaps after starter Bryce Young's three series, a plan designed to get him more action after his recovery. (And backup Andy Dalton's 12-year veteran status kept him from playing in the first preseason game.)

Corral made mistakes but got into some rhythms, although they never produced points, and the Panthers didn't make it past New York's 33-yard line all day. The Corral-led offense didn't get across the 50 until the third quarter. Head coach Frank Reich said he thought Corral, who will likely get more reps throughout the preseason, "showed some flashes."

Corral completed 15 of his 22 passes for 126 yards, took four sacks, and threw an interception at the end on a deep pass to the end zone, trying to get anything just before time expired. He fumbled the ball twice, recovering the first and having the second stripped on a sack.

On the first one, Corral said the center (Cade Mays, who slotted in there as the Panthers mixed up offensive line combinations throughout the game) didn't hear his cadence. He recovered the ball with the help of running back Spencer Brown. The second was a clean strip sack recovered by backup Jets defensive lineman Bruce Hector, who joined the team on Aug. 8.

"I've got to be louder, and that's not on him at all, by any means," Corral said about the first fumble. "As far as the strip sack, I've just got to hold the ball tighter. Those two are completely on me, for sure."

He also took ownership of the other sacks, noting that he needed to keep his "clean" by moving through progressions quicker. He mentioned one sack where he saw a receiver open too late, and with his eyes focused on one defender, he struggled to get the ball off.

"I've got to clean up my eyes, if we're being honest," Corral said. "The O-line was coming up to me saying they could make it a lot easier. But it's my job to get the ball out. And at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what they do. I can help them a lot more by just cleaning up my eyes and making quicker decisions."

His best drive included three consecutive completions – a 15-yard pass to Derek Wright, a 20-yarder to Shi Smith (Carolina's longest play of the day from scrimmage), and a 5-yard throw to Raheem Blackshear, followed by another sack and then a 7-yard scramble to set up 4th-and-1 at the Jets 33.

Reich acknowledged they could've gone for points, but they weighed out the risk and decided to see what Corral could do. The drive ended with a short pass out to Blackshear, as New York linebacker Nick Vigil immediately met him for a loss of 1.

"I thought about kicking it just to get points on the board," Reich said. "When we were third-and-long, I said to myself, 'OK, check with the guys in analytics. We're in four-down territory. If this ends up in fourth-and-5 or more, I'll just kick it, so we can get that operation.'

"Then when it ended up fourth-and-1, just like, OK, let's go for it. See if we get a touchdown drive here. I thought Matt showed some flashes. We'll have to look at the film overall, just kind of weigh and see why we didn't score, why we didn't get the ball down in there more often." 

But Corral was quick to take accountability for his night, even though it had been a while since he'd been out there. 

And he had a team mantra, given to them earlier in the week when linebacker Luke Kuechly spoke to them, in his head throughout the game.

"Luke Kuechly was just talking to the team, and one of the things he said was just be honest with yourself," Corral said. "When we watch the film, what do you see? What could you do to get better? If you made a mistake, own it, fix it. And I think the guys are going to be taking that initiative. But it starts with quarterbacks. It starts with me for sure."

Check out scenes from the Panthers' first preseason game against the Jets.

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