Cam Newton's first snaps were always going to be ugly, we knew that. For all the heroics and amazing ability he's always been a quarterback who gets better as games progress. It doesn't matter if it's the second game of the preseason or the eighth of the regular season. That's what we saw against the Chiefs on Sunday night.
Newton's first quarter was exceedingly ugly. He overthrew open receivers, didn't look comfortable in the pocket and had only five passing yards on five attempts. It was the kind of start that caught people's eyes for all the wrong reasons, then he turned the corner. Before long Cam was back to the player we know and it's this growth that will define the 2014 season.
It's hard to know how much we really learned from Sunday night. The Chiefs have many of the same flaws as the Panthers. Both are strong defensive teams with good running games, but questionable offensive lines paired with the absence of Jamaal Charles means we might not know just how good (or bad) either team could be. The defense bent further than we'd like to see early, but strong running allowed Carolina to prevail.
What I liked
Kelvin Benjamin - Extremely Optimistic
It will be so fun to see Benjamin play with Cam when both players are firing on all cylinders. On Sunday he only caught two passes, but they were two big ones -- contributing a total of 41 yards on the night.
Benjamin's hands are so much better than we saw when he was at Florida State, and immediately we're seeing him carve a niche for finding the soft spot in zone coverage and get behind linebacker coverage. These are the matchups he can win right now. When Newton hits his stride they'll be very difficult to stop.
Jonathan Stewart - Extremely Optimistic
Sure, the box score only shows 26 yards for Stewart, but it's a case of how he got these yards. There was a lot of contact, no easy yards and he fought for everything. Two touchdowns in the first half cemented his return in style and Stewart is running with a lot more power than we've seen in the past.
There's no question that the Panthers are better with Stewart active. If he can stay healthy the running attack could be very special.
Fozzy Whitaker - Extremely Optimistic
It was disappointing to see the team lose rookie Tyler Gaffney to a roster gaffe, but that could be quickly forgotten if Whitaker can step up and be a reliable third running back. Fozzy ran with purpose and became a core reason why the Panthers won on Sunday night. I'd like to see him get more reps and rest DeAngelo Williams and Stewart more. At this point it can't hurt.
Defensive front - Extremely Optimistic
Goodness gracious there was a lot of pressure. Yes, the Chiefs offensive line is bad -- but three preseason sacks is nothing to sneeze at. Pair that with creative blitz packages and it seems Sean McDermott's unit are poised to be just as good in 2014, maybe better.
That's a scary prospect for opposing offenses.
Cam Newton - Somewhat Optimistic
It's great to see Cam back and he did a lot to shake off the rust. Now that just needs to progress further as preseason goes on.
Honorable mentions: Brandon Williams, Brenton Bersin, Brad Nortman, Trai Turner, Amini Silatolu
What I didn't like
It's preseason. Still too early to get down on too much. Let's see how this plays out.
That said, EIGHT YARD PUNT! Oh God. Why Jordan Gay, why?!