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Matt Corral's debut was a memorable one, if not perfect

Matt Corral

LANDOVER, Md. — There was nothing ideal, or conventional about Matt Corral's NFL debut.

And yet, it kind of worked.

Corral only completed one pass, his first one, but still led the Panthers to a 23-21 win at Washington by Frankensteining together a game-winning field goal drive.

He got them into position for Zane Gonzalez's 45-yard field goal with a combination of fortunate penalties and a bit of luck, but he got them there.

Corral looked frustrated on the field and had every reason to be.

"Nah, just need to get better," he said. "There's tons of stuff to clean up."

Corral's stat line was a good place to start, as he was 1-of-9 passing for 11 yards. That one went to Keith Kirkwood on his first NFL preseason pass, and then he didn't complete another one. That included a pass when he led Kirkwood across the middle before he took a massive hit (Kirkwood assured everyone afterward he was OK), and a couple of decisions that could have turned out so much worse.

But what Kirkwood saw before and after that pass convinced him Corral had promise.

"What I love about him is his poise, trying to learn from all different aspects," Kirkwood said of the rookie quarterback. "In the first half of the game, he was locked in. I was standing right next to him, and he's clued into every single play, making his reads and acting as if he was in the game. That's one of the things I love about Matt; he always wants to learn.

"Obviously, that situation in the fourth quarter, things were chaotic, but he still tried to find a way."

Corral made what could have been a fatal mistake for a team driving late, losing the ball while being sacked, when he appeared to be trying to make something out of nothing. But an illegal contact penalty on a downfield defender erased that.

He got another 15 yards later when Washington defensive end William Bradley-King was called for a facemask. Corral's helmet popped off, but he kept rolling, looking downfield and trying to make a play.

"Yeah, I wasn't just going to stop and then get rocked, so keep on moving," Corral said with a laugh.

Matt Corral

"He's a fighter," Kirkwood said. "And not just him, everyone on the team, that's just what we breed. We're a competitive team.

"You see guys like Matt; his helmet gets ripped off, he didn't just stop on that play. He kept going. That's a lot to see for him and his future, and a lot for this team."

Still, Corral was not thrilled with his play. He was out there with an odd lot of receivers at the end of the depth chart, and the kind of line that you get in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, but he wasn't in the mood for any excuses. He saw it as his fault alone that it wasn't smoother.

"We just have to have better communication," he said. "We always say we want complete, clear, concise communication. And we were all over the place out there, and that's on me. I've got to get everybody on the same page.

"Having a clear communication, make sure everybody knows the right spots. It doesn't matter who's out there, it's my job to get everybody on the same page and execute. . . . I knew things were going to happen fast, and I"ve just got to trust myself, and trust what I see."

So being able to flush a few bad looks and keep the team moving was a priority.

"Regardless of what happened before that, what matters is what's about to happen," Corral said. "Get everybody calmed down and on the same page, and take a deep breath. And go out and get to the 37-yard line or more, and win the game.

"I came up to Zane, and I promised him he was going to get a shot. I just had to get everybody on the same page, and make sure the goal was to score, to get inside the 37-yard line."

He did that. It just wasn't pretty.

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said it was complicated by the fact Washington started blitzing more, sending everyone at the rookie and making him make hot reads. If the goal was to unsettle him, it appeared to work in a few instances.

And yet.

"He moved us down and got us in field goal range, by whatever means it took," Rhule said. "He got hit in the face, got 15, but he got us down there. We'll build off it, and I'm sure the game will slow down. . . .

"The more reps they get, the better they're going to play. Everybody knows the situation they're in. Part of this league is, whatever you're given, you have to go produce when it comes."

And whatever it looked like, that's what Corral did Saturday.

See photos of Panthers playing at FedEx Field during Saturday's preseason game against the Commanders.

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