Panthers Ride Defense, Special Teams to Win

Matt Moore protected the ball, Mike Goodson scored on a 91-yard kickoff return and the defense gave up just 50 first-half yards as the Carolina Panthers won their first preseason game, 15-7, versus the visiting Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

The cliché goes like this: There is no such thing as an ugly win. The Panthers put that theory to the test on Saturday, topping the visiting Titans despite going a third straight game without an offensive touchdown.

Matt Moore played three-plus quarters, leading a pair of scoring drives that resulted in John Kasay field goals. However, he completed only 55 percent of his passes and went three-and-out five times, four in the first half.

His best drive came late in the first half when the Panthers moved into the red zone. However, Wallace Wright fumbled away Carolina's only turnover and the Panthers came away empty-handed.

The biggest obstacle was the offense continually landing in third-and-long situations, which is a big reason why Carolina converted just 6-of-17 third downs (35 percent).

WR Brandon LaFell
Mary Ann Chastain/Getty

While the offense's end-zone-free spree continued, Mike Goodson gave the defense a much-needed cushion by answering the Titans' only score with a highlight-worthy 91-yard kickoff return. Goodson took the return up the middle, bounced it outside and outran the coverage team for the go-ahead score.

The real story of the game, once again, was the defense. The Panthers gave up only 217 total yards, 70 in the first half. MVP candidate Chris Johnson averaged just 1.25 yards on eight carries, with the Titans finishing with only 45 net yards rushing.

Carolina's pass rush continued to excel. The Panthers nabbed seven sacks and now average exactly six sacks per game through three preseason contests. Against the Titans, Charles Johnson (two), Everette Brown, Greg Hardy, Eric Moore, Charles Godfrey and Richard Marshall took down the quarterback.

The pressure helped set up a big day by third-year corner Brian Witherspoon, who helped his quest for a roster spot immensely with a pair of interceptions.

Cat Quicks

--Brandon LaFell finished with two catches for 31 yards. He dropped a catchable ball on third down early in the game but redeemed himself with a falling one-handed grab that came just two plays before Wright's fumble. Fellow rookie David Gettis showed he can hold onto the ball while taking a big hit, doing so on two of his three catches.

--Carolina got some good contributions from its tight ends. Dante Rosario caught three passes for 38 yards and appeared to be the Panthers' most polished pass-catcher. Gary Barnidge delivered a sensational 50-yard catch-and-run in which he walked the proverbial tight rope up the left sideline.

--Rookie Trent Guy handled all the punt returns. He misread a few punts early in the game but settled on as the action progressed and showed soft hands. He also returned a kickoff for 37 yards.

--Tyrell Sutton, like Goodson, showed he can make plays on special teams and offense. He delivered a big hit on Titans PR Damian Williams in the second quarter, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Jamar Williams.

What are Panthers fans saying about Saturday's win? See in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.

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