There were no glaring mistakes from the rookie cornerbacks who started for the Carolina Panthers in Thursday night's 22-19 loss in the preseason opener at Baltimore, but the NFL MVP made one that will generate conversation.
More on Cam Newton's bizarre penalty in the next section.
Second-round draft pick James Bradberry and third-round pick Daryl Worley had solid debuts as Carolina rebuilds its secondary. They didn't give up a big play and didn't do anything to hurt the defense, playing longer than any other starters.
It's way too early to say these two are ready to make Carolina fans forget Pro Bowler Josh Norman, now with the Washington Redskins. Baltimore starting quarterback Joe Flacco didn't play and the Ravens' top receivers were out because of injuries.
But this was a good first step.
Now more on Newton.
QB depth chart: Newton warmed up with a shirt that says "I WIN MY WAY" on the front, so he's obviously not worried about whether he's a Tier 2 or Tier 1 quarterback. Newton looked solid in his only series, completing 5 of 6 passes for 36 yards. His biggest mistake was running onto the field celebrating to draw a 5-yard penalty and negate a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker A.J. Klein. No worries. Backup Derek Anderson, one of the best backups in the league, threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Devin Funchess a few players later.
Maybe that dude could start: Funchess is behind Ted Ginn Jr. opposite Kelvin Benjamin when the Panthers open with two wideouts. But the second-year receiver out of Michigan could easily be the second starter. He might eventually take that role. Ginn is the speed guy, but Funchess isn't slow and makes up for what he might lack in speed with his long stride. At 6-foot-4, he's another big target. He showed that on the touchdown catch from Anderson he's learning how to use his size more effectively. Remember, Funchess caught seven passes for 120 yards in last year's regular-season finale.
Who got hurt? Wide receiver Brenton Bersin was having a big night before leaving because of a rib injury. No update on if he'll miss time because of it. Wide receiver Damiere Byrd limped off the field in the first half, but he returned and made an amazing one-handed 35-yard catch down the left sideline in the third quarter. Byrd is battling for a roster spot as a kickoff returner/receiver, so plays like that can't hurt his stock.
A surprise player who impressed: You might not have heard of reserve defensive tackle Eric Crume, who is well down the depth chart. But he had a strip-sack in the third quarter and got a good push up the middle on several other plays. Not a surprise player, but the short catch and run for 14 yards late in the first catch had to be a confidence booster for wide receiver Stephen Hill, fighting for a roster spot after suffering a nasty season-ending knee injury in last year's camp.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Panthers looked ...: Solid. They weren't in there long, but they were efficient. Starting center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart didn't play at all, but the first-team offense took the opening drive inside the Baltimore 10, where it settled for a field goal. The first-team defense got off the field after three plays on its only series in which all the starters played.
One reason to be concerned: The backup defensive line was gashed a few times on Baltimore's first second-quarter touchdown drive and was pushed back badly on the second. Rivera has said since training camp opened that first-round pick Vernon Butler is a "work in progress" at defensive tackle. But the Panthers need at least two of a combination of Butler, Paul Soliai or Kyle Love to be a big part of the four-man rotation at tackle.
Fifth receiver: Bersin looks to have the edge for the fifth receiver spot if the rib injury isn't a setback. He caught a first-down pass on Carolina's first drive and finished with five catches for 69 yards. He consistently has been the first receiver up after Benjamin, Ginn, Funchess and Corey Brown in practice. That Bersin can play all three receiver positions and special teams gives him an edge. He might even be ahead of Brown, who didn't play with the first team.
Punter update: This position wouldn't normally get much attention during the preseason, but the Panthers are trying to replace Brad Nortman. Swayze Waters got all the punts on this night as veteran Mike Scifres had the night off to rest a sore knee. The Panthers want to be more of a directional punting team this season. Waters pinned Baltimore deep with his first punt that went out of bounds at the 14, but this battle is far from over.