The Panthers opened the 2021 preseason against the Colts in a game where zero Panthers starters saw any action. P.J. Walker started the game at quarterback and played the entire first half, and Will Grier took the reigns for the second half.
Overall, it was a tale of two halves. The first half was pretty good as the second and third units played well against the Colts, and the Panthers had a 15-10 lead at halftime. The second half was less fun, as the bottom of the roster players played a half full of blown assignments, costly penalties and badly executed offensive plays. The Colts were able to close the gap on the Panthers and eventually took a 21-18 lead with 0:07 left in the game, which was the game’s final score.
Before you overreact to this game, keep in mind that it’s the first preseason game and this is not necessarily an indication of what the team will look like during the regular season. Exactly zero of our starters played today, and Rhule seemed to be using this game as an evaluation of which roster moves he needs to make on Tuesday when he has to make roster cuts. There were a lot of senseless penalties — mostly false starts — but those things can be fixed. It’s not time to panic yet, but it does mean the Panthers have a lot of work to do before they’re ready to take the field against the Jets in Week 1.
For those interested, below you can find a more detailed summary of the action, broken down by quarter.
The Panthers won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half. The defense struggled a bit to keep the Colts from moving down the field, but sorted themselves out and forced a punt thanks to a key third down stop by Sean Chandler on a blitz.
The second-team offense did a good job at moving the ball down the field on their first drive, and capitalized on a 60-yard catch and run by Terrace Marshall (on a broken play where Walker scrambled out of the pocket to find the receiver, no less) to put the first points on the board thanks to a 29-yard field goal from Joey Slye to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Colts mirrored the Panthers’ previous drive by taking advantage of a big play in the passing game to set up a game-tying field goal to even the score at 3-3 with 2:50 left in the quarter. The Panthers made a few nice plays on defense but were unable to get off the field when they needed to and allowed the Colts to move the ball downfield on a big play to set up the field goal attempt.
The Panthers went three-and-out on their next drive, thanks in part to a false start penalty by Trent Scott that set the team back (it was his second false start of the day). Joseph Charlton boomed a quality 50-plus yard punt to set the defense up with good field position.
The defense did better on their next drive, thanks to a strip sack by Marquis Haynes to give the ball back to the offense deep inside Colts territory. The Panthers were able to run one play before time expired in the quarter with the game tied at 3-3.
The Panthers opened the second quarter inside the red zone, but were unable to put the ball into the endzone and had to settle for another field goal from Joey Slye. The chip shot was good and the Panthers took a 6-3 lead with 14:47 left in the quarter.
The defense struggled a bit on third down during the next drive, but tightened up once the Colts crossed midfield and stuffed a fourth-and-1 attempt when Frankie Luvu sacked Jacob Eason for a 13-yard loss to give the Panthers defense a hard-earned turnover on downs.
The offense picked up a big gain on their first play when Walker connected with Marshall for an 18-yard play. The offense couldn’t put anything together after that big gain and had to settle for another field goal, this time a 41-yarder from Slye to increase Carolina’s lead to 9-3 with 8:07 left in the quarter.
Yetur Gross-Matos picked up a sack for a loss of 6 yards on the defense’s first play after Slye’s field goal, but the defense immediately gave up a big play on second down. The defense buckled down on the next set of downs, however, and forced the Colts to punt from midfield. The punt was downed at the Carolina 10-yard line with 5:07 left in the quarter.
Chuba Hubbard made his presence known on third-and-1 when he bounced off the line and picked up 59 yards to set the Panthers up with solid field position to try and put more points on the board before the end of the half. Walker connected with Shi Smith for a huge 26-yard gain, followed by a pass from Walker to Tremble for the game’s first touchdown. The Panthers went for two, but a holding penalty on Tremble forced the Panthers to opt for the 43-yard extra point instead. Slye’s attempt was no good, and the Panthers took a 15-3 lead with 1:56 left in the quarter.
The Colts got off to a quick start on their next possession with a quick 31-yard strike, and they continued to drive down the field efficiently en route to a touchdown that brought them within five points of Carolina’s lead with less than a minute left in the half. Kenny Robinson committed an unnecessary roughness penalty that aided the Colts in their 7-play, 75-yard drive to make the score 15-10.
The Panthers attempted a 63-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half but the kick was no good. The Panthers took at 15-10 lead over the Colts into halftime.
Will Grier started the second half at quarterback for the Panthers, and the first drive was a quick and uneventful three-and-out that gained five total yards. Joseph Charlton boomed another punt, and Kenny Robinson put a nice hit on the punt returner.
The defense got off to a shaky start by letting the Colts move the ball with ease, but a well-timed Kenny Robinson interception gave the ball back to the Panthers’ offense before the Colts could inflict too much damage.
The Panthers started to put a decent drive together — and even converted a fourth down play — but were unable to put points on the board after failing to convert a second fourth down play on the drive, and they ended up turning the ball over on downs back to the Colts.
The defense held up and forced the Colts to punt the ball back to the Panthers, with Kendall Donnerson and LaDarius Wiley making a big play on third down to force the punt. The Panthers took over with five seconds left in the quarter and managed to run one play (with an added illegal formation penalty) before time ran out in the period with the Panthers still winning 15-10.
The Panthers couldn’t put a drive together and had to punt the ball back to the Colts, but the returner muffed the punt and the Panthers recovered, giving the offense a chance for more reps. Rookie long snapper Thomas Fletcher picked up the loose ball that was forced by Stantley Thomas-Oliver to give the Panthers possession.
The Panthers benefited from a botched fumble recovery after Grier found Giovanni Ricci for a moderate gain, and the Colts forced a fumble but failed to recover it after a series of what can only be described as ‘preseason football theater’ where several players tried — and failed — to pick up the loose football. The Colts challenged the ruling on the field of a fumble out of bounds and lost, so the Panthers retained possession. All of that led to a fourth-and-2 situation a few plays later that gave Slye a shot at another field goal. He was good from 32 yards to give the Panthers an 18-10 lead with just over 10 minutes to go in the game.
Troy Pride Jr. gave up two big plays and injured his knee — an injury that required the cart to take him off the field — with eight minutes left in the game. The Colts scored a touchdown on the first play after Pride was taken off the field to pull to within two points. They attempted a 2-point conversion to tie the game and succeeded. The teams were tied 18-18 with 7:43 left in the game.
The Panthers were unable to put points on the board with their next drive thanks to three straight false start penalties that turned a manageable third-and-2 into a much more difficult third-and-17 situation that the Panthers were unable to convert. Charlton boomed another punt — this time a 53-yarder — to set the Colts back on offense.
The Colts were able to drive down the field and get inside the Panthers red zone with less than two minutes to go, and were able to pick up a first-and-goal with a minute left. They took a knee for the first three plays and set up a chip shot field goal, which gave them a 21-18 lead with just 0:07 left in the game.
The Panthers were unable to score with the time remaining and fell 21-18 to the Colts to bring their preseason record to 0-1.