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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Catching on


CHARLOTTE - For Kealoha Pilares, nearly everything about the Panthers' preseason opener Saturday night was a new experience.

"It was crazy just being in an NFL stadium. I had never been to an NFL game," said Pilares, a rookie wide receiver from the University of Hawaii. "It was exciting, but I had to keep my nerves down and just really focus on what I had to do.

"After a couple of plays, it was just another football game."

Playing at Bank of America Stadium was virtually a new experience for several of the Panthers' pass catchers, but it's an experience they'd love to repeat after the way they played in the Panthers' 20-10 victory over the New York Giants.

Pilares scored on a 35-yard catch and run to seal the victory. Tight end Greg Olsen, in his fifth NFL season but in his second week as a Panther, scored a first-quarter touchdown. In between the scores, second-year receiver Armanti Edwards – who barely played in 2010 – produced a pair of electrifying punt returns and also gained 36 yards on a pass play.

"From the leadership of Coach (Ron) Rivera all the way down to the veterans that they had coming back and the new guys that they added, I feel like they have a really good group here," said Olsen, who finished with three catches for 58 yards. "The chemistry is good."

After Olsen hit paydirt midway through the first quarter, Edwards energized the crowd with punt returns of 22 and 24 yards, the second one setting up a field goal that gave the Panthers their first lead at 10-7.

"I think I did pretty good on the first two, trying to make something happen," Edwards said. "It felt good."

That wasn't the case a year ago for Edwards, who played quarterback in college and was new to receiver and the return game in 2010.

"I'm not out there like a chicken with his head cut off anymore," Edwards said. "Last year, it was a new position, and I was doubting myself. This year, I'm very comfortable."

Pilares capped a night filled with encouraging play from the offense. The Giants were still within a score before Pilares caught a short pass from Derek Anderson and took off down the left sideline.

"The play was a fake to the running back and a bubble (screen) on the back side," Pilares explained. "The quarterback did a great job of faking the handoff and throwing it to me, and the wideout on my side  (Charly Martin) did a good job of blocking. From there, I saw the end zone and just tried to run as fast as I could, and I got there."

Collectively, the Panthers are trying to get there too, trying to get things heading in the right direction following a 2-14 season.

Saturday certainly represented a good starting point.

"We have a great staff which has done a great job in the new system," Olsen said. "I've been around some good teams, and I think that this group has something special and has something going forward."


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