Brandon LaFell's start over Dwayne Jarrett was surprising to some, and his stats (two catches for 22 yards) weren't anything to write home about, but he still showed off the talent and play-making ability that the Panthers saw in him before they drafted him in April.
LaFell is the ninth rookie to start for the Panthers on opening day during the John Fox era.
His first NFL reception came at the end of the second quarter with an 8-yard grab from Matt Moore. The reception came with only 33 seconds left in the half, and sparked the drive that ended with a Moore touchdown pass to Steve Smith.
LaFell's second reception came in the fourth quarter, worth 14 yards. That, coupled with his drawn defensive pass interference call, helped set the Panthers up for a score in the red zone, but the drive ended in another interception.
LaFell was targeted eight times and caught only two passes; yet his two catches acted as major stepping stones for the Panthers on their way to the red zone.
His main competition for the No. 2 receiver spot, Dwayne Jarrett, put up decent numbers as well. His two catches for 40 yards (21 and 19 yards, respectively) were vital in the Panthers' comeback hopes, as they also helped set up the drive in the fourth quarter that ended with Moore's second interception.
While Jarrett recorded almost twice as many yards as LaFell, it was evident that their contributions were of equal importance, and it doesn't appear that LaFell is in danger of losing his starting spot based on Sunday's performance.
Other Rookie Notes
Greg Hardy scored the Panthers' lone points in the fourth quarter off a safety. The two-pointer came by way of a blocked punt (a first for the Panthers since 2004) out the back of the end zone.
Hardy is showing prowess in special teams play to complement his exceptional defensive performance. Hardy finished the day with three tackles and a forced fumble.
Jordan Pugh spent some time in the return game, and his kickoff return at the start of the second quarter gained 32 yards and set the Panthers up at their own 45.
Jimmy Clausen replaced an injured Matt Moore late in the 4th quarter when the game was out of reach for the Panthers, and threw two incompletions under heavy pressure.
Depending on Moore's status this week, Clausen could make his first career start on Sunday in the Panthers' home opener versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Alex Montgomery is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a degree in Professional Writing. He has worked for the Western Carolinian and his hometown newspaper, the Kernersville News. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.
Rookie Report: WR Brandon LaFell
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