CHARLOTTE — Make no mistake, there are things for the Panthers to fix on defense.
They let a rookie quarterback with limited protection and weapons hang around longer than they had any right to. But they also gave that rookie quarterback a terrific beating, and they did it collectively.
The Panthers sacked Zach Wilson six times and hit him 10 times in Sunday's 19-14 win over the Jets, bringing the kind of pressure they were hoping for after an active offseason and preseason.
"The strategy was to hit him a lot, be in his face a lot, disguise, try to confuse him," Panthers defensive end Brian Burns said. "That was the basic strategy. Make his first game hell."
It appeared to work.
"It felt like I got hit by a truck there for a second," Wilson said of the late sack by Derrick Brown in particular, though it had to be hard to tell at times. Wilson said his neck was "a little sore. You know a little whiplash, but I will be all right."
The Panthers brought the pressure throughout the day, particularly early. They held the Jets to 82 yards in the first half, as they built a 16-0 lead at the break.
Burns got it started with an unblocked sack on the first drive, which set the stage for the rest of the day.
"I definitely feel like once one person gets a sack, usually it gets contagious," Burns said. "Everybody starts getting sacks because the quarterback gets a little antsy in the pocket, looking at the rush more than what he should be looking at. I definitely felt like that was a spark to it."
That kind of broad-based approach is what they've hinted at all preseason, as a number of players share the load. Eight different players hit Wilson Sunday.
Reddick and Burns — who combined for 21.5 sacks last year — have a friendly bet on who gets more sacks, and have suggested 30 is within their reach. At the rate they got after Wilson (though it will get tougher against better offensive lines, starting next week with the Saints), you wonder if that's a realistic goal.
"We have some great guys up front. From the edges to the interior. Even our rotational pieces. Guys that are real dogs and can get after it," Reddick said. "That's what we put out there on the field today. That's what we put on film. We did what we said we were able to do when we talk to ourselves and how we wanted to go out there and establish who we are. I think we took care of that today.
"It's a beautiful thing. When I first signed here and I saw who was on the roster, I saw Brian, saw Derrick, saw the guys we brought in. Morgan Fox, Marquis Haynes. When I saw that, I already knew we could be special. I already knew that we had some dogs. The thing about it was being able to go on the field, go and practice. Work on these things. Work on rushing the passer. Then on game day delivering. I'm excited to be here. I'm happy to be here. Everything looks like it's going to be good. We'll see how that goes one week at a time. Like I said, keep getting better."
The Panthers led the league in the preseason in turnover margin, so it's clearly something they've suggested they can do. They only created one turnover Sunday, an interception by Thompson, but that was part of a full day for the new number 7. He led the team with 10 tackles and added a sack and three pass deflections.
Thompson said he was fired up to show what he could do in his new number (which he wore in college at Washington).
"I just felt like myself," he said, with a grin.
The Panthers hope to build on the kind of pressure they threw at Wilson, knowing it's going to be tougher later. But the way they started, they feel like this was a good sign.
"Honestly, it was a good feeling," Burns said. "We came out with the idea to be dominant, to be aggressive, to play fast. It was a great feeling, and we were doing what we said we were going to do."
View in-game action photos of Carolina's season opener against the Jets.