NASHVILLE – A quick strike and three takeaways pushed the Panthers to a 26-16 victory in Saturday's rainy preseason game against the Titans at Nissan Stadium.
The Panthers got off to a fast start thanks to arguably their fastest player. Wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. caught a hitch from quarterback Cam Newton and slipped away from cornerback Antwon Blake. From there, Ginn was gone. He turned on the jets and ran past the Tennessee secondary for a 61-yard touchdown.
"He's probably one of the fastest guys in the NFL," Newton said. "That's not a reach. He is."
Added wideout Devin Funchess: "He gets to the second and third gear so quick. It's like, 'Wow, how do you do that?' Ted has been doing it for a long, long time."
The Titans threatened to answer right back, but the Panthers came up with a takeaway in the red zone. Cornerback Bene Benwikere intercepted quarterback Marcus Mariota's wayward pass for wide receiver Harry Douglas and returned it to the Carolina 21-yard line.
"Once I read his eyes, I was able to come back in and make a play," Benwikere said. "It's a big boost being able to prove to the coaches that I still have it and that I can still make plays."
A 36-yard completion to running back Fozzy Whittaker on third-and-4 allowed the Panthers to extend their lead late in the first quarter. Graham Gano converted a 41-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
Tennessee reached the end zone in the second quarter. Mariota rolled to his right and connected with Douglas for a 23-yard touchdown in the corner.
Rivera was particularly disappointed with the 16-yard completion on third-and-11 to rookie wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, which allowed that drive to stay alive.
"We can't allow a conversion, especially when we are in good position to stop it," head coach Ron Rivera said.
Newton and the bulk of Carolina's first-team offense and defense were done after four series. The reigning MVP finished 8-of-12 for 162 yards and one touchdown.
The Panthers extended their lead late in the first half thanks to a second takeaway. Linebacker A.J. Klein deflected quarterback Matt Cassel's pass over the middle, and rookie cornerback Zack Sanchez came down with the interception at the Carolina 43-yard line.
"A.J. made a hell of a play tipping the ball and I was able to get my hands on it," Sanchez said.
Quarterback Derek Anderson then led the second-team offense down to the Tennessee 5-yard line, but his third-down pass to wide receiver Damiere Byrd fell incomplete in the end zone. Gano converted a 23-yard field goal to make it 13-7 at halftime.
Tennessee rookie running back Derrick Henry ripped off some solid runs to help the Titans cut into the Panthers' lead early in the second half, as Ryan Succop eventually converted a 48-yard field goal.
Carolina turned a third takeaway into points later in the third quarter. Safety Colin Jones forced Titans running back David Cobb to fumble deep in his own territory, and linebacker David Mayo recovered.
Two plays later, Anderson fired a strike to wide receiver Kevin Norwood for an 8-yard touchdown. Gano missed the point after attempt wide right, leaving the Panthers with a 19-10 lead.
The game was suspended due to lightning in the area with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter. After about a half hour delay, the teams resumed play and third-string quarterback Joe Webb took over for Carolina.
"It was almost like another halftime for us," Rivera said. "I thought the players handled it well coming back out onto the field."
Webb connected with running back Jalen Simmons for a 6-yard touchdown over the middle to make it 26-10 with six minutes remaining the game. Titans tight end Alex Ellis scored a touchdown immediately after the two-minute warning and the two-point try failed.
"It feels great to find ways to win football games," Newton said. "That's all we're trying to do is to create good habits."
View game action photos from Carolina's 26-16 win over Tennessee.