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Panthers’ defense shuts down 49ers’ offense in Week 1 road win

The Panthers defense came to play in San Francisco.

It’s always good when your favorite team wins. Sometimes they win pretty, but other times that doesn’t exactly happen. Yesterday was one of those times for the Panthers’ offense. The first half of yesterday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers was a rust bucket of miscues and mediocrity, notably from quarterback Cam Newton who looked like a guy who missed the entire preseason following offseason shoulder surgery.

Aside from a 40-yard touchdown pass to Russell Shepard, Newton was off on nearly every throw he made in the first half. Fortunately for the Panthers, he seemed to find his way in the second half and managed to end the game with a decent showing: 14/25 for 171 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

But, the Panthers still won the game in convincing fashion thanks to a physical and dominant performance by the defense. With that being said, let’s break this game down...

What I liked...

Panthers Defense — Extremely Optimistic

I cannot say enough positive things about the defense, but I’m going to use this section of the column to try.

The Panthers defense came to play yesterday, simple and plain. They showed that they’re as good as advertised, and they gave us plenty of reasons to be excited about them for the 2017 season. There were a few runs by Carlos Hyde that were troubling, but outside of that the Panthers completely shut down the 49ers’ offensive attack. The Panthers also turned into a brick wall on 4th down, keeping the 49ers from extending drives on 3 of 4 attempts, including a huge stand on 4th and goal late in the 2nd half.

Bryan Hoyer was sacked four times. (Should have been five but a penalty on Charles Johnson negated one.) Bryan Hoyer’s passer rating yesterday was 70.3. Bryan Hoyer threw zero touchdown passes. Bryan Hoyer threw 35 times yesterday and was held under 200 yards passing. These are all good things if you’re a Panthers fan.

The pass rush was consistently good yesterday. Every player on the defensive line did his job and prevented the 49ers offense from getting anything started. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly continue to be one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL. Davis particularly had himself a game, with seven tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit. “But he’s 34 years old...” they said. “But he’s lost a step...” they said. They say a lot of things, but they’re wrong. Thomas Davis is just as good now as he’s always been. We saw that yesterday.

Special shoutout to Kurt Coleman too. He was all over the place yesterday. He played like a man who wanted to prove he deserved his captain’s badge, and if you ask me — he definitely proved it.

Graham Gano — Cautiously Optimistic

I don’t want to get too excited, but Gano was 3/3 yesterday. Granted, none of his field goal attempts were more than 40 yards (two from 39 yards and one from 36 yards), but Gano didn’t miss any. I still don’t like having two kickers on the roster, but as long as Gano keeps making his kicks I won’t complain about him getting the nod.

Christian McCaffrey — Somewhat Optimistic

It’s not his fault, but the Panthers tried too hard to get McCaffrey involved in the offense yesterday. They should let it come more naturally instead of trying to force it too much. McCaffrey is dynamic and he’ll be able to take advantage of certain situations, but the Panthers don’t need to force those situations on him like they did. Plus, his fumble was bad. Hopefully we don’t see that too often.

What I didn’t like...

Panthers First Half Offense — Somewhat Pessimistic

I mentioned this already, but the offense looked bad in the first half except for that one touchdown pass to Russell Shepard. Fortunately they worked it out and had a better showing in the second half, but the first half was pretty ugly to watch.

Still won, though.

What’s next?

The home opener against the Buffalo Bills (aka the “Panthers North”). Hopefully the Panthers improve on their Week 1 win and double their win total on the young season. The Bills are coming off a Week 1 win over the New York Jets, so they’ll also look to keep their momentum going. It’s up to the Panthers to shut it down, so let’s hope they can.