Observation Deck: Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A goal-line stand by the first-team defense. An amazing touchdown catch by first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin. No sacks given up by left tackle candidate Byron Bell. A recovered onside kick.

Short of quarterback Cam Newton suiting up and a victory, the Carolina Panthers got about all they could out of Friday night's 20-18 loss to the Buffalo Bills

Here are some other thoughts on the Panthers' first preseason game of the year:

  • Carolina made the right decision sitting Newton, who is still not 100 percent from offseason left ankle surgery. While he was cleared to practice when training camp began, Newton hasn't been cleared to scramble or run the read option. Coach Ron Rivera said that will come in a matter of days. Meanwhile, it wasn't worth risking a setback with a new offensive line against a Buffalo defense that sacked Newton six times last season in Week 2.

  • Much was made during the offseason of the Panthers releasing the franchise's all-time leading receiver, Steve Smith. If Benjamin (6-5, 240) keeps making plays like his 29-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter he will silence the critics fast. The 28th pick of the draft has impressed throughout camp with his ability to make the high, acrobatic catch. On this play he stumbled at the goal line, gathered himself as he was going to the ground and made a diving catch for the score. Guess he can go high and low.

  • Bell started and allowed no sacks, but it would be premature to say he won the job to replace the retired Jordan Gross. He was pushed into the quarterback a couple of times and didn't exactly open up running room. Nate Chandler, also in the mix for the job, allowed a sack that turned into a fumble in the second quarter playing right tackle. It wouldn't surprise if he got the start on the left side next weekend against Kansas City. The biggest concern on the line is depth. The backups were so pitiful in the second quarter that the starters -- minus Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil -- returned.

  • In his first game after moving from safety to nickel corner, Charles Godfrey was beaten early for a 32-yard catch. He wasn't in the same time zone. But for the most part this unit, playing without starting free safety Roman Harper (toe), looked adequate as the Panthers attempt to replace three of four starters. Backup cornerback Josh Norman, the king of Carolina's preseasons when it comes to picks, had an interception in the end zone. This is a make-or-break year for him.

  • With placekicker Graham Gano (lower back) out, backup punter Jordan Gay missed the 33-yard PAT after Benjamin's touchdown.

  • At one point in the third quarter, Tavarres King made three straight catches, albeit one was called back for holding. His stock is rising.