CHARLOTTE – The Panthers overcame a slow start to secure their first win of the preseason, a 28-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.
"The first few series weren't what we hoped to be, but we felt we were on the verge," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Then all of a sudden some things started to happen and some guys started to make plays."
Carolina was outgained 114 yards to one in the first quarter, but cornerback Antoine Cason and running back Jonathan Stewart helped turn the tide.
The Chiefs entered the red zone late in the first quarter, and Cason singlehandedly pushed them back by recording a tackle for loss on consecutive plays.
"I was just out there trying to fly around and make plays," Cason said. "I don't know if that's what (sparked the turnaround), but if it did, great."
Kansas City settled for its second field goal and a 6-0 lead at the start of the second quarter. When the Panthers took over on the ensuing possession, Stewart – playing in his first game since Week 13 of the 2013 season – provided the offense with a much needed jolt on his first carry, bursting through a hole opened by left guard Amini Silatolu and center Ryan Kalil for a 17-yard gain.
Three plays later, Stewart powered his way into the end zone for a 2-yard score to put Carolina ahead 7-6.
"It felt good. It's been a while since I've touched the end zone," Stewart said. "It's good to get my feet wet and get back into the groove of things."
After linebacker Luke Kuechly sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on third-and-long, Carolina's offense once again marched down the field.
Quarterback Cam Newton's 25-yard strike to wide receiver Jason Avant on third-and-16 set up first-and-goal, and Stewart later ran straight into the end zone untouched for a 3-yard touchdown to give Carolina a 14-6 halftime lead.
"That's what this offense can be capable of," Rivera said. "We can be very dynamic offensively."
Newton was on the field for Carolina's first five series in his preseason debut. He completed 4-of-9 passes for 65 yards and was sacked twice.
"We didn't match their intensity early," Newton said, "but it was good to put a few drives together and score some points."
A third Kansas City field goal and Aaron Murray's first NFL pass – a 43-yard touchdown to tight end Travis Kelce – put the Chiefs ahead 16-14 in the third quarter.
But the visitors' lead was short-lived. The Panthers produced a seven-play, 70-yard scoring drive that was culminated by wide receiver Brenton Bersin's first career touchdown – a 16-yard back-shoulder reception from quarterback Derek Anderson.
"So exciting to be out there scoring a touchdown on this field," said Bersin, a Charlotte native. "I grew up going to games here as a kid. It's a dream come true."
A.J. Klein put the Panthers in prime position to score again. The linebacker stepped in front of Murray's pass intended for tight end Demetrius Harris and returned it 29 yards to the Chiefs' 8-yard line.
"He crossed my face, and I undercut it to stay with it and the quarterback threw it," Klein said. "I just happened to be in the right position at the right time."
Fozzy Whittaker put the ideal field position to good use, recording a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 28-16 lead late in the third quarter.
"We ran the ball effectively. It took us a little bit to get started," Rivera said. "But once we did get started we did the things we needed to."