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Defense comes up big in Panthers 16-8 victory

Panthers begin the season 1-0

Jason Huber
September 09, 2018 - 10:56 pm

Defense was the name of the game throughout the Carolina Panthers regular-season opener at Bank of America Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys

Hosting the regular season opener at home for the first time since 2013, the Carolina Panthers (1-0) recorded six sacks in a 16-8 victory over the Dallas Cowboys (0-1) to start the 2018 season.  

"It's just getting back in the flow of the game. Going out there and playing four quarters of football is something we haven't done in a long time," Cam Newton said. "I'm just excited to have a good team win today. It's much needed and we'll take a look at our mistakes leading up to the next one." 

Unable to score until the fourth quarter, Dallas still had the game in reach thanks to a botched Panthers extra point attempt with their own successful two-point conversion to make it a one-score game. 

Having two drives to try and tie the game up, Dallas couldn't get their offense going anymore and the Panthers put a knot on the game with a sack on Dallas QB Dak Prescott with 1:39 remaining to force a fumble that Captain Munnerlyn recovered for Carolina. 

Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Kawann Short all picked up sacks late in the fourth quarter. Short finished with two on the night.

"The outcome was determined by us up front, offensive line and defensive line," Short said. "We knew what those guys were doing all game and me and Mario...he told me what to do and I did it. Next thing you know he got the fumble." 

"Mario did a great job at sacking him and I just ran in and jumped on it," Munnerlyn said. "It was a great play by Mario. We practice that each and every Wednesday with turnover circuits and it was a perfect time and a perfect situation." 

Both offenses began the game with sloppy first drives. Having possession first, the Cowboys were called for two penalties and finished the drive with a loss of 12 yards. Luke Kuechly came up big with two tackles on Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliot and the Panthers forced the Cowboys to punt on their own 13-yard line.

It looked as if the Panthers first drive would be cut short with no gainage after three straight no-gain attempts and an offensive penalty, but Cam Newton took matters into his own hands, rushing for 16 and 29 yards to bring the Panthers into Dallas territory. 

The Panthers continued to run the ball but McCaffrey struggled to get any yardage and ended the drive with a fumble on the Dallas 5-yard line. 

In total, McCaffrey finished the game with 50 rushing yards on 10 attempts and 45 receiving yards and six receptions.

"It can't happen, but it's football," McCaffrey said. "Stuff happens, take a win."

McCaffrey said the offense has some things to work on.

"I think there were spurts and droughts. I think we were moving at times. I think the biggest thing is we've got to eliminate the negatives," McCaffrey said. "If we do that, we'll be a pretty good team offensively. We'll learn from it and keep going. 

Suffering multiple offensive line injuries this preseason, Panthers offensive lineman Amini Silatolu didn't start but entered the game on the Panthers first drive. Daryl Williams started the game, making up for two big potential absences on the Panthers offensive line. 

However, Williams was carted off the field late in the fourth quarter after suffering a right knee injury, the same one he suffered a torn MCL on in Training Camp.

"I haven't received any updates on any of the injured players but I can tell you it's not a re-injury for Daryl," head coach Ron Rivera said. 

In total, the Panthers offensive line gave up four QB hits and three sacks.

"It's about the depth we have right now. If something happens, you have to be the next guy to step up, you have to be ready to play," Rivera said. "I really appreciated the way the guys came in and played did their best to give us an opportunity to win." 

Defensively, the Panthers defensive line shut down the Cowboys offensive line that is without all-pro center Travis Frederick. In the first quarter alone, the Cowboys picked up four penalties, two being called on the offensive line. 

Both teams combined for 19 total penalties in the game. 

Running back Ezekiel Elliott was held to just 18 yards on seven attempts in the first half, averaging 2.6 yards per carry. He finished the game with 69 yards on 15 rushing attempts. 

"We put our defense in a bad situation," Elliott said. "We had them on the field too long, we couldn't get first downs, we couldn't keep our drive going, so I mean, we have to improve as an offense." 

The defense in large part was once again led by Pro-Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly came up big, helping the Panthers hold the Cowboys to no third-down conversions and finished with six tackles (five solo) in the first half.

In total, Kuechly finished the game with 13 tackles (11 solo.) 

"The guys up front played well like they always do, and our defense always starts with them. They played great in the run game, and they played great at the end of the game with those sacks," Kuechly said.

Kuechly headed to the sideline towards the end of the game with an injury but returned for the final few plays.

"I'm good. I will be fine," Kuechly said. "I just got rolled up a little bit, but I will be good to go." 

In one of the most notable moments of a slow offensive game for the Panthers, tight end Greg Olsen left the game with a right foot injury and did not return. He was seen with a walking boot and crutch later on the sideline. It's the same foot he missed nine games last season with a fracture. 

"You can't ever replace him (Olsen)," Newton said. "Just his professionalism, his IQ and outlook of understanding, but in a way, Ian (Thomas) has been prepared for this moment. I'm just gonna leave it up to the front office to see who they bring up next." 

Carolina was first on the board with a four-yard touchdown run by Cam Newton thanks to a seven plays, 35-yard drive to start the second quarter. 

At the half, Carolina led the Cowboys 10-0 following a 27-yard field goal by Graham Gano and held the Cowboys to just 60 total yards and never allowed them into the red zone. 

Carolina finished the first half with 209 total yards and was led in rushing by Newton with 64 yards on seven attempts. 

Newton finished the game 17/26 and 161 passing yards and 58 rushing yards on 13 attempts.

"It's still early. I felt extremely comfortable with what he (Norv Turner) was doing," Newton said. "I understood the game plan going into it and it is still kind of give and take, knowing how he calls just the preparation process throughout this whole week." 

Fullback Alex Armah put the final points on the board for the Panthers with a one-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter after a 63-yard drive and the Panthers were able to hold off Dallas the rest of the way.

"It felt good. We practiced it during the week, so when the play was called, I was ready," Armah said.

As the final minute came to an end, wrapping up the victory, Newton put his hands up to pump up the crowd.

"Winning at home is very pivotal in the National Football League and I said it earlier in the week, we know they have a very strong fan base. We have a very strong fan base too," Newton said. "It was electrifying and we've just to keep feeding it energy. It's just like anything else, it's a living creature. Our fans are alive and when you do certain things to get them hyped, they can be a huge asset for us and that's what we're going to expect throughout this whole year." 

The Panthers will travel to Atlanta to take on the division rival Falcons in the first road and division game of the year. 

Other notable moments:

-Cornerback Mike Adams finished the game with five tackles, including a key third down stop against Ezekiel Elliot.

-Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson had five tackles in his first career start.

-Devin Funchess had no reception until late in the third quarter, but they were big. He caught a 15-yard and then 14-yard pass to put the Panthers in Dallas territory. 

-Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory left the game with a concussion. 

-New Panthers owner David Tepper received the game ball post game.

-Cam Newton arrived with spurs cleats. He says it was because of the game against the Cowboys in particular and he doesn't see them until game day thanks to Under Armour. 

-Cowboys new kicker Brett Maher missed a 47-yard field goal. 

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