The Panthers took the Raiders to their limit in the season opener at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. and almost walked away with a win, but unfortunately were unable to seal the deal and had to settle for a 34-30 ‘feel good’ loss. While losses are never truly fun, this one feels a bit different because Panthers fans should have plenty of hope that a brighter future is definitely ahead of us. At the very least, this loss feels different than the 20 other losses we’ve endured since the 2018 season began.
There were several players who stood out for the Panthers against the Raiders — both good and bad — so let’s take a look at those players in more detail.
Christian McCaffrey: Run CMC is the best player on the Panthers and it showed today. He picked up 96 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, as well as 38 yards on three receptions. He looked exactly like the 1000/1000 player he was in 2019, and if the Panthers want to surprise teams and win more than a few games, they’re going to need as much production from McCaffrey as they can possibly get. Today was a good start to what will hopefully be another 1000/1000 season from CMC.
Robby Anderson: The Panthers signed Anderson to a two-year contract in the offseason and a lot of people questioned why they would do that with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. Well, Anderson showed why he was a prime free agency target with six receptions for 115 yards and a 75-yard touchdown that sparked the offense and gave them a chance to win the game at the end. I hope to see more plays like that from Anderson, because it was certainly a lot of fun seeing him torch the Raiders’ defense en route to the end zone.
Jeremy Chinn: Chinn has the chance to be a very special player for the Panthers if he can continue to grow and learn. He was all over the field today, and despite finishing with just eight tackles (seven solo) he looked like he was involved in nearly every single play on defense. I like the spark he brings and the versatility he has to play multiple positions, and I think he could live up to the ‘Isaiah Simmons lite’ nickname sooner rather than later.
Rasul Douglas: Douglas wasn’t even on the roster two weeks ago, and yet he made the most of his opportunity when Donte Jackson went down with an ankle injury in the first half. Douglas played well in backup duty — especially for someone who had only practiced with the team a handful of times — and even had a key pass breakup to force the Raiders to punt in the second half when the Panthers were trying to avoid letting the game get out of hand.
Pharoh Cooper: It is so refreshing to write something positive about a Panthers kick/punt returner and not have to qualify it with “well, at least it wasn’t a disaster” or something like that. Cooper did exactly what he was supposed to do — he gained positive yards on his returns and he didn’t make any dumb mistakes. It’s really sad that our bar is set so low for kick returners, but Cooper has brought some much-needed optimism to the position.
Run defense: Josh Jacobs is a good running back, so there’s no shame in letting him run over you here and there, but he looked like a man running among boys at times, and that simply won’t be good enough to win many games in the NFL. We somewhat expected this to happen since the 2019 Panthers were so bad against the run, but it’s frustrating to see the same issues time and time again. Jacobs only rushed for 93 yards (there’s a positive, I guess), but he did scorch the defense for three touchdowns, which is the opposite of what the Panthers wanted to happen.
Pass rush: The Panthers didn’t put nearly enough pressure on Derek Carr and left the game with exactly zero sacks. Carr didn’t exactly light the world on fire, but he did manage to finish the game 22-of-30 for 239 yards. The Panthers need to generate pressure on the quarterback to avoid their young secondary being exposed, and today they simply didn’t do that.
Tahir Whitehead: Whitehead made a boneheaded play when he committed pass interference that kept the Raiders’ drive alive and allowed Jacobs to score his third touchdown of the day (the touchdown that ultimately gave the Raiders the points they needed to win the game). It’s not the worst thing in the world (and the defense surely could have prevented Jacobs from running all over them) but in this game it stood out as a bad play, and that’s enough to get on the list this week.
Joey Slye: There’s no other way to say this except directly: you have to make extra points in the NFL. Slye seems to have an issue with that for whatever reason, and it reared its ugly head again today. It’s not the reason the Panthers lost (and they even made up the lost point by converting a 2-point conversion later), but it’s something that could turn into an issue later on if it’s not fixed soon.
Donte Jackson: To be fair to Jackson, he’s only mentioned here because he left the game early with an ankle injury and never returned to the field. Hopefully he’s okay and will be able to suit up next week, because the Panthers need all the depth they can stand in the secondary.
I thought Teddy Bridgewater played well today. He finished the game 22-of-34 for 270 yards and a touchdown, which is fine, and he didn’t do anything that caused the team to lose. There were a few times where his throws seemed to be a bit off, but that’s to be expected in Week 1 so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Teddy was what we thought he would be, and that’s fine for the most part.
I was disappointed in the final play call on offense to run the fullback dive with Armah. When it’s fourth-and-inches and you have a premier running back that you’re paying a lot of money, you should probably involve him in a game-deciding play. I can’t say that play call is the reason we lost, though, because the defense still gave up 34 points and we don’t really know what would have happened if the Panthers picked up that first down. (I mean, Teddy could have thrown a pick-six on the very next play for all we know.)
Despite the loss I feel better about this team than I have in a long time, and I really enjoyed watching them play today. I think this team is headed in the right direction, and I’m strongly encouraged by what they showed on the field. I think Matt Rhule was the right hire, and I think Joe Brady will develop into a fantastic offensive coordinator as this team gels into a cohesive unit. Even though it didn’t work out for them today, good things are coming for this Panthers team. Of that I am (almost) certain.