Panthers solid in preseason debut

Despite a blocked field goal, the Panthers first and second units were solid in the team's preseason debut against the Washington Redskins at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night.

Chris Gamble intercepted a Patrick Ramsey pass on the first possession, which led to a 9 play, 67 yard drive culminating in a Rod Gardner TD catch in the right corner of the end zone. "We were in cover two and the safety came down and I had half of the field," Gamble said of his interception. "Santana Moss ran a post route. I jumped on the route and got the interception."

The touchdown pass to Gardner, who wears #87, was reminiscent of many touchdowns caught by the previous #87, Muhsin Muhammad. As Delhomme felt pressure from a blitzing Redskins defensive lineman, he flung the ball high into the endzone for Gardner to go up and grab. Falling backward, Gardner made the catch in a Muhsin Muhammad-like fashion.

"It was a short left pass that came back to me," said Gardner after the game. "(Jake) Delhomme had a good fake pass. He threw to the right side, and I think scrambled a bit. But he threw it up there and let me make a play. It felt great. For me to play against the Redskins and be able to do that, it was a good thing. I want to prove something. I came out to prove something this year and I'm trying to come out and give everything I've got to help this team win this year."

Delhomme set the theme for the night, as the Panthers QBs would largely own the Redskins depleted secondary all night. Delhomme, Weinke, Rutherford and LeFors combined for 210 yards passing, 4 touchdowns and a QB rating of 126.5. Coach John Fox stated after the game that the Panthers ended up throwing more than usual because the Redskins were blitzing more than expected.

"They pressured quite a bit in particular the first half," Fox said. "There was a lot of blitzing going on by their defense. Sometimes throwing is the best option."

For the most part, the Panthers new offensive line looked solid and showed positive signs that their cohesion is going along to plan. The Redskins employed more blitzes because they had 5 of their defensive backs out of the game, and the best way to disguise a suspect secondary is to make the opposing teams' quarterback make quick decisions by applying pressure.

"We got a lot of pressure from Washington tonight, and the offensive line was the key," QB Jake Delhomme said after the game. "They gave us time, and we were able to make some plays down the field."

WR Steve Smith returned to action for the first time since suffering a broken leg in the season opener against Green Bay in 2004.

"It felt good to be out there producing, especially with my teammates," Smith said. "It's exciting to be out there, but we're missing a special guy, Stephen Davis. Once he gets back out there, we'll be complete."

The Panthers' WR corps looked strong from top to bottom all night long. The Panthers spread it around, throwing it to 11 different receivers. Considering that the entire third quarter was an Eric Shelton showcase, that's impressive. There were 3 series in the second half where is was almost Shelton's show exclusively. Shelton ended up carrying 10 times for only 20 yards, but showed signs that he's going to be the short-yardage back the team envisioned when they drafted him in the second round.

Shelton wasn't the only rookie who got a lot of playing time. Panthers rookie Offensive linemen Geoff Hangartner, Evan Mathis and Joe Berger played 3/4ths of the game and looked good at times. Fellow rookie QB Stefan LeFors to hooked-up with wide receivers Drew Carter and Aaron Boone for two touchdowns in the 4th quarter. LeFors scrambled and ran the offense much like his fellow Louisiana native, Jake Delhomme.

"The guy was a playmaker," Coach Fox said of LeFors. "He was a playmaker at a high level. There is something sparky about the guy. That is what we saw and that is why we drafted him."

LeFors admitted that the nerves got to him early on. "I'm not going to lie," LeFors said. "I was nervous but after that first play I got that drop ball out of me. I just went in there and just had fun and played the game like I have before."

LeFors short-hopped his first NFL pass to Drew Carter, and joked about it afterward. "He should've been a couple yards closer," Stefan joked. "No, I was just nervous. I knew he was open and just choked. That's all there is to it. After that one, I had to take a deep breath and just relax. It's just a game, and I know how to play it. I wouldn't be here if I didn't know how. Just go out there and just play and throw everything else to the side."

First round pick Thomas Davis had a quiet game for the most part. Davis showed good reads as a safety, and showed his incredible speed getting to the ball. There were times that his presence changed the way the Redskins executed their plays, and showed flashes of what is to come with more experience. On one play where Davis was to blitz, he recognized the TE wasn't covered, and moved into excellent position downfield, forcing the QB to attempt a difficult throw. One of the reasons the Panthers drafted Davis was his reputation as a hitter, and it was evident Saturday night that it's no secret. In 3rd down situations, Davis would line up as a linebacker and showed blitz, causing Redskins QB Mark Brunell to scramble and improvise to ovoid being hit.

All around, it was largely a successful night for the Panthers. Despite having one field goal attempt blocked in the first half, John Kasay showed tremendous distance on his kickoffs, and both Jason Baker and Tom Rouen had decent showings at punter.

"We've been banging on each other for two weeks," Coach Fox said after the game. "Everybody looks forward to that first game. Camp gets a little shorter, and you have something to look forward to at the end of the week."

View the Panthers vs. Redskins photo gallery at http://panthers.scout.com/2/423708.html.

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