CHARLOTTE – The Panthers continued their strong preseason with a 25-14 victory over the New England Patriots at Bank of America Stadium on Friday night, giving Carolina its first 3-0 start since 2006.
A 10-minute opening drive gave fans an extended look at the starters but also featured a number of highs and lows for the offense.
Cam Newton, who played the entire first half and finished the night 11-of-17 for 142 yards, missed four plays after landing on his head following a tackle by Patriots defensive back Jonathan Jones.
"I always worry about him but that's him," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He plays to win, and I'd much rather he didn't but he's going to give us all he has because he wants to do his best out there."
The play after Newton exited, starting right tackle Jeremiah Sirles went down and didn't return, adding to the number of sidelined offensive linemen. Rivera shared postgame that Sirles injured his hamstring and will be further evaluated in the coming days.
Newton returned to the huddle in time to complete the 16-play, 77-yard series that ended with a 21-yard field goal for Graham Gano, his first of four successful attempts.
New England’s first drive was the polar opposite: a three-and-out for the Panthers defense punctuated by rookie Donte Jackson’s emphatic tackle short of the first-down marker on running back James White.
The defense, led by the stellar play of linebackers Shaq Thompson and Luke Kuechly - who combined for 14 tackles before halftime - held Tom Brady to 12-of-18 for 102 yards and zero touchdowns in his one half of action. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski made his preseason debut but his one target was thwarted by a Mario Addison pass deflection.
The Panthers led 9-3 at the half before the offense found the end zone twice after halftime as the battle to determine Newton’s backup continued. A 1-yard rush by Taylor Heinicke in the third quarter added six more points while Garrett Gilbert’s short pass over the middle to wide receiver Mose Frazier in the fourth effectively sealed the win.
"I think they're both playing well right now, and both guys are showing that they belong on the roster," Rivera said of the quarterbacks. "We have to continue to evaluate as we go forward."
The Panthers will wrap up the preseason Thursday at the Pittsburgh Steelers as the team moves closer to finalizing their 53-man roster.