The NFL regular season kicked off for the Carolina Panthers Sunday, and the first game of 2017 went about how we all hoped it would: A thoroughly-satisfying and fairly-comfortable 23-3 victory in Santa Clara, the home of terrible Super Bowl 50 memories and the home of the terrible San Francisco 49ers.
Each week in the 2017 season, CharlotteFive will be taking a quick look at five things from the game you’ll want to talk about in the office Monday morning. We’ll leave the play-by-play breakdowns and analysis to the pros at the Observer.
Actually, before we start this list, a quick caveat: The 49ers might just be really bad (see point five). If so, there isn’t too much you can take from one game, no matter how one-sided, other than “the Panthers just beat a really bad team.”
The Panthers may have just beaten a really bad team, but there were still a lot of positives on Sunday. Here are our five talking points from the season opener:
(1) The Panthers defense is good again.
Yes, it was against Brian Hoyer. But the Panthers defense looked really, really good on Sunday.
On Sunday in their first chance of 2017, the defense delivered and it felt like 2015 all over again. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei recovered a first half fumble and bossed the line, Thomas Davis had seven tackles, Julius Peppers intimidated everyone as usual, the team had four sacks and Luke Kuechly had an interception.
— James Brady (@JamesBradySBN) September 10, 2017
The 49ers were stuffed on the goal line late and stopped three times when they went for it on 4th down.
The defense is back. That’s a beautiful thing. Long may those performances continue.
(2) The NFL is 100x better than college football.
I get it, I get it. The pageantry, the “tradition,” yada yada yada. Hell, I proposed at the Shoe and used a Michigan-Ohio State narrative to convince my wife to date and eventually marry me. College football is a thing, almost tribal.
But man, nothing quite grabs the nation’s consciousness and unites cities like the NFL. My daughter and I saw a family of four all dressed in Cam Newton jerseys Uptown for lunch … before an away game.
— Michael Terbet (@terb11) August 11, 2017
We had our windows open at the house to breathe in the soon-to-be-fall air and after every big play I could hear people yelling up and down the street.
The game also didn’t take five hours … how do you find the time, college football fans?
(3) Cam Newton was rusty, but good enough.
He had two snaps in the preseason — of course he was going to be rusty. But that didn’t stop fans from panicking in the first half whenever No. 1 missed a receiver.
Sixteen of the Panthers’ first 17 touches on offense went to McCaffrey or Stewart (more on that in a bit) only one of them downfield, and you had to wonder if Cam wasn’t healthy enough to be out there.
And then, well, he hit Russell Shepard for a 40-yard touchdown pass and all was (mostly) forgotten.
The Catch. The SPIN. The End Zone.
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2017
Cam (14 of 25 for 171 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT) later threw into double coverage for an interception in the second quarter, missed seeing a wide-open Greg Olsen later, and overthrew Ed Dickson for an easy touchdown … but he was good enough, and you have to assume he’ll only get better as he shakes the rust off. He did improve as the game went on.
(4) Run game strong.
Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey — they’re good.
It wasn’t a banner day for either on the stat sheet, so the fantasy-football-obsessed among us might not have noticed, but both Stew and CMC did what they were asked to do: Give Cam easy targets, get yards on the ground, block, earn first downs, and eat up the clock.
Oh, and somersault in for touchdowns when required.
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2017
Stewart and McCaffrey combined for 31 rushing attempts and 112 yards, along with seven receptions for 55 yards. Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, and Devin Funchess will be big parts of the offense, but it looks like the rushing game will be more important this year than last.
(5) The 49ers really do suck.
We said it in the preview, but the 49ers are bad, and Levi’s Stadium might be even worse. It didn’t help that rookie linebacker Reuben Foster — the only defensive player I highlighted in the preview — got injured in the first quarter and did not return. (The next play was Shepard’s touchdown.)
Carlos Hyde and Pierre Garcon were relatively quiet, Brian Hoyer looked a mess, and the Panthers defense strolled through their offensive line. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Niners lose at least their first four games in a row.
And the fans, well, they weren’t having it either.
Yeah, there’s no one left at this 49ers–Panthers game https://t.co/FOS3ThvV0m
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 10, 2017
At least someone had fun on Sunday.
You’re looking the wrong way pic.twitter.com/kpKZOf0fmr
— Roaring Riot (@roaringriot) September 10, 2017