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Rapid Reactions: Happy returns in Jacksonville

Initial Impressions With their A-Team finally out there, the Panthers had to love how their plan came together Thursday night in Jacksonville. 

That plan was to play quarterback Cam Newton eight to 10 snaps in his first game since his offseason shoulder surgery, and 10 plays was exactly what he got thanks to nearly perfect 75-yard opening drive. 

Newton's first six snaps were handoffs, with Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey totaling 50 yards. After a 12-yard pass to McCaffrey and two short rushes by the rookie, Newton then hit wideout Kelvin Benjamin on a slant for a 9-yard touchdown. 

And just like that, Newton's preseason debut was done with one satisfying drive. 

"We talked all week about being physical," he said. "We wanted to come out and set the tone, our operation was clean, the offensive line and backs did an unbelievable job."

With their A-team finally on the field, the Panthers had to love how their plan came together Thursday night in Jacksonville. 

That plan was to play quarterback Cam Newton eight to 10 snaps in his first game since his offseason shoulder surgery, and 10 plays was exactly what he got thanks to nearly perfect 75-yard opening drive. 

Newton's first six snaps were handoffs, with Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey totaling 50 yards. After a 12-yard pass to McCaffrey and two short rushes by the rookie, Newton then hit wideout Kelvin Benjamin on a slant for a 9-yard touchdown. 

And just like that, Newton's preseason debut was done with one satisfying drive. 

"We talked all week about being physical," he said. "We wanted to come out and set the tone, our operation was clean, the offensive line and backs did an unbelievable job."

Top Play

—The return of the Newton/Benjamin connection:

Health Watch

—Wideout Curtis Samuel gave folks watching back in Carolina a scare when he came up limping after making his third reception of his pro debut. Fortunately for the rookie, the Panthers and those scared folks, Samuel didn’t appear to re-injure his hamstring. Instead, he had his right ankle taped. Samuel eventually re-entered the game early in the third quarter and made his fourth catch. 

—Offensive tackle Dan France was helped off the field in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for a concussion.

—Center Ryan Kalil joined Newton and Samuel by making his preseason debut. Kalil, who's coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, played the first series before giving way to Tyler Larsen

—Quarterback Joe Webb was a surprise scratch. He was dealing with some soreness in his neck.

—Defensive end Daeshon Hall, who suffered a knee contusion in practice this week, didn’t dress and had a wrap around his knee. The Panthers had held out some hope that the third-round pick would be able to play.

—Defensive tackle Kyle Love, who returned to practice this week after suffering an ankle sprain early in training camp, didn’t dress.

—Guys who didn’t make the trip: wide receivers Fred Ross, Brenton Bersin and Keyarris Garrett; safety L.J. McCray; cornerback Corn Elder; linebacker Jared Norris; guards Chris Scott and David Yankey; defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Toby Johnson; tight end Scott Simonson.

Extra Points

—There was a drive in the second quarter when Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, Devin Funchess, Damiere Byrd and Greg Olsen were on the field together. Imagine opposing defensive coordinators' headaches when they have to get ready for a regular-season game plan that includes Newton, Benjamin and Jonathan Stewart. 

—Benjamin has been noticeably more physical this preseason, initiating contact after the catch.

—Second-round rookie Taylor Moton replaced Daryl Williams at right tackle for the Panthers’ third series. It wouldn’t be surprising if Moton’s part of a similar, limited rotation in the regular season.

—Calls for the Panthers to move on from won’t get any quieter after he finished the night with an interception thrown into double coverage and a passer rating of 38.5.

—It was fun seeing McCaffrey on punt returns. It was scary seeing him try to make a tackle on a Jaguars’ fake. It was scarier seeing him take a blow to the head during a return in a mostly meaningless preseason game.

—It was interesting seeing Cameron Artis-Payne used as a blocker on the punt and punt return teams. He hasn’t played much on special teams since coming to Carolina, but that could obviously be a way to give him a better chance at getting a jersey on game days.

As Max Henson astutely pointed out, Rivera wasn’t happy with his third-down defense in the first two preseason games. So Rivera will likely be happy about this: The Jaguars failed on their first five third-down conversion attempts and went 1-for-7 in the first half. 

—With Hall out, rookie defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. saw snaps with the second-team defensive line. He took advantage sacking quarterback Chad Henne.

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