FOXBORO, Mass. – Brian Burns was the last player to take his pads off in the visiting locker room after Carolina’s preseason loss to New England.
The reason? He was busy responding to the flurry of texts that blew up his phone after another two-sack performance.
“It’s been blowing up since I got to my locker,” Burns said with a smile as he held his phone. “I’m trying to answer everybody right now.”
The first-round pick has been as good as advertised this preseason. He debuted with two sacks versus Chicago. Against the Patriots, he recorded a strip-sack and a red zone sack, both coming in the third quarter.
“He’s seizing the moment. That boy has got a bright future,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “Four sacks in three games? That’s impressive.”
But Burns didn’t do it alone. In fact, defensive lineman Efe Obada played a major role in both of Burns’ sacks.
“Efe was a force tonight,” Burns said with wide eyes.
On the first one, Obada was lined up as a 3-4 defensive end and he cleanly beat the guard off the snap. That pressure flushed quarterback Jarrett Stidham out of the pocket and created an opportunity for the edge rusher Burns to use his closing speed to chase him down. Stidham didn’t sense Burns coming, and the rookie pass rusher took advantage.
“He was just carrying it real loose, and I knew if I grabbed both arms the ball was going to come out,” Burns explained.
Defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton recovered the fumble at Carolina 19-yard line, erasing a scoring chance for New England.
Burns struck again late in the third quarter, and again it was Obada – lined up inside – who paved the way.
This time it was third-and-goal from the 17-yard line, and Obada had an idea.
“Throughout the game the guards were sitting on inside moves,” Obada said. “Usually, we’re trying to get pressure inside and collapse the pocket. I was inside as a three-tech. I figured I would hit the B gap and let Brian come underneath with that speed on the outside. I called it and made sure I took two guys."
Added Burns: “Efe was definitely the key inside. He was working the guard and overtaking that B gap. He called my name and I knew what it was. I wrapped around and it was perfect.”
Obada alerted Burns (as you can see in the video) and occupied the guard and tackle, allowing Burns to loop behind his fellow rusher and take a direct path to Stidham. By the time the guard realized what was happening, it was too late. Down the rookie quarterback went for an 8-yard loss. New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski then proceeded to miss a 43-yard field goal attempt.
But something was missing. Burns has quickly become known for his Spider-Man sack celebrations, yet he didn’t bust them out on either occasion Thursday night.
“Nah,” he said. “I’m saving them for a big, big, big play.”
Head coach Ron Rivera believes those big plays will come, especially if the first-round edge rusher learns from the mistakes we may not necessarily notice.
“There's a couple things that he has to understand and he may have made a few more plays,” Rivera said. “I think he can be an even more effective player for us.”
That’s exciting to think about, because through three games, Burns has provided the pass-rushing pop the Panthers were hoping for when the drafted him 16th overall.
In Burns’ mind, could his first preseason be going any better?
“Um, yeah, if I would have got Tom Brady,” Burns said. “That would have made it better.”
View all of the best photos from the Panthers team photographers at New England on Thursday night.