There were plenty of unknowns heading into the Panthers season opener against the Raiders Sunday. We didn’t know what to expect from first-time NFL coach Matt Rhule and his staff. We weren’t sure how Teddy Bridgewater would perform in his first NFL start since 2015. We didn’t know how one of the youngest defenses in the league would respond without preseason games. We had no idea what effect playing without fans would have on players. We didn’t know much of anything.
Sunday the picture of what to expect from this Carolina team got a little clearer. Despite a 34-30 loss to Las Vegas, the Panthers competed until the very end and that excites guys on the team, including captain Christian McCaffrey.
“I thought we showed that we have a lot of fight and that’s exciting – especially for a young team. Not that there are any excuses, but I thought we had a lot of fight and I liked that. I know that we’re going to continue to get better.”
The Panthers started the game trading scores with the Raiders and headed into the locker room trailing Vegas by just two points. Carolina’s offense stalled in the 3d quarter – leading to ten unanswered Raiders points, but a 3-yard touchdown run by Christian McCaffrey early in the 4th brought the Panthers to within 5 points with 12:32 remaining in the period. Defense got a stop on the Raiders next offensive possession and Bridgewater connected with Robby Anderson for a 75-yard score and 2-point conversion to put the Panthers up by 3 (30-27) with 8:29 remaining in the game.
The Raiders scored on their next series – aided by a pass interference call against Tahir Whitehead that put Las Vegas in the red zone instead of facing 4th and long at the Carolina 35 yard-line. The Raiders would score three plays later on a 6 yard touchdown run by Josh Jacobs – putting them up for good. The Panthers had one more opportunity to score, but the drive ended after a controversial failed 4 and 1 play.
“I told them they should be disappointed, but they certainly shouldn’t be discouraged,” Coach Rhule said after the game. “To lose one of our best defenders early on and have Rasul Douglas who has only been here for four days, go out there and play, to battle back from some early big plays, to fight, scratch and claw to take the lead back at the end of the game – I was proud of the guys. We were just a play away. We said as a team we would get to the fourth quarter and we thought we would have a chance to win in the fourth quarter and we did.”
“Not the results that we wanted, you know you always want to come up with the victory, but it is a lot of positives to take away from today,” Bridgewater added. “At the end of the day, there are no moral victories in this sport. So we just have to watch the tape, with thick skin, just continue to buy in to what coaches are telling us around here and coaching us to do around here.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Panthers as they prepare to face Tom Brady and the retooled Buccaneers in Tampa next week.
- Carolina is now 3-4 against the Raiders all-time, including a 2-2 record at home.
CMC Sets Another NFL Record
- RB Christian McCaffrey joined Chuck Foreman as the only players in NFL history with 25+ rushing TDs & 15+ receiving TDs in their first 50 career games.
- McCaffrey scored his 25th career rushing touchdown in the first half, followed by his 26th in the second half. His performance today marked the seventh game of McCaffrey’s career with multiple rushing touchdowns.
- He finished the game with 134 scrimmage yards (96 rushing, 38 receiving) and two touchdowns.
- With 38 receiving yards, McCaffrey (2,561) passed Mark Carrier (2,547) for the fifth most receiving yards in franchise history.
Bridgewater Makes Debut
- Teddy Bridgewater became the 10th QB in franchise history to start a Week 1 game for the Panthers.
- Bridgewater finished the game with 270 passing yards and one touchdown after completing 22-of-34 attempts. He posted with a 98.9 passer rating.
- He added 26 rushing yards on four attempts.
Anderson Scores In First Game as a Panther
- WR Robby Anderson recorded a 75-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter against Las Vegas. It marked the 10th longest receiving touchdown in Panthers history and was the longest since Ted Ginn’s 88-yard touchdown catch in 2016 (11/27/16 at Oakland).
- Anderson led the team with six receptions and 115 receiving yards.
Slye Hits All Three Field Goal Attempts
- K Joey Slye went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts against the Raiders. Slye’s field goals were from 47, 46 and 31 yards out. Slye went 1-for-2 on PAT attempts.