CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton avoided the sack, spun out of trouble, rolled to his right and threw a pass to tight end Ed Dickson near the goal line early in the third quarter.
It was that kind of game for the NFL MVP on Friday night against the New England Patriots. It was that kind of night for the Panthers, who were sloppy on offense, defense and special teams. They looked like a team from the bottom of the NFC South instead of the defending NFC champions.
“You look at the mistakes we made," outside linebacker Thomas Davis said. “Those are the mistakes that teams that are not as good as we are, that are not as talented as we are, make."
Good thing Carolina coach Ron Rivera doesn’t agree with calling the third preseason game a “dress rehearsal" for the Sept. 8 opener. If he did, there would be major concerns.
Two late touchdown drives by third-string quarterback Joe Webb made this look closer than it deserved to.
Here are other observations from Carolina’s 19-17 loss to the Patriots:
QB depth chart: Newton was on his way to the best preseason of his career, compiling a passer rating of 126.6 through the first two games. But he was out of sync from the beginning in this one and had one of his worst preseason performances ever. Granted, the dropped passes didn’t help. But Newton was off high early, completing only one of his first four attempts. He finished the first half with a passer rating of 8.5, completing 8-of-20 attempts for 61 yards with two interceptions. He finished 13-for-29 for 100 yards, a rating of 25.1. So much for his best preseason ever.
Maybe that dude could start: Second-year wide receiver Devin Funchess isn’t technically a starter. That honor belongs to Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr. But that can’t last for long the way the 6-foot-4 Funchess is playing. He was targeted 10 times, catching five passes for 49 yards. He could start for a lot of teams now.
Who got hurt? Starting right guard Trai Turner left in the second half with a shoulder injury, left guard Andrew Norwell with an ankle injury; there was no indication how serious the injuries might be. Undrafted rookie linebacker Jeremy Cash was being evaluated for a concussion. But the real concern, unless the injuries to Turner or Norwell are serious, has to be with punter Mike Scifres. The Panthers were taking it easy on the veteran, who had offseason surgery on his left knee after spending his previous 13 seasons with San Diego. But on his first punt of the preseason, the 35-year-old injured his right knee and did not return. As has been said here weekly, the player who replaces Brad Nortman -- now with Jacksonville -- might not be on this roster.
A surprise player who impressed: If you’ve been waiting for backup running back Cameron Artis-Payne to catch your eye, this was it. Artis-Payne had 20 yards on eight carries in the first two games. Friday he ran through more tackles, gaining 29 yards on nine carries. He also caught a first-half pass for a 12-yard gain. His pass protection once again was solid. Said fullback Mike Tolbert: “He’s going to be ready to take over at any time."
When it was starters vs. starters, the Panthers looked ...: Sloppy. Inconsistent. Simply not very good. To be fair, the offensive line gave Newton plenty of time to throw. But then there were dropped passes, three or four in the first half depending on how tough you’re grading. There was a holding penalty on left tackle Michael Oher that negated a first-down gain by Jonathan Stewart. There was offensive pass interference on Benjamin to negate a 17-yard catch. The defense gave up completions of 17 and 14 yards right off the bat. When Tom Brady entered the game, he quickly led the Patriots to a field goal and touchdown. You get the picture.
One reason to be concerned: What would the Panthers do if the back injury that has kept tight end Greg Olsen out of consecutive preseason games became serious? The tight end has almost disappeared from the offense without Olsen, who has led Carolina in receptions the past three seasons. Backup Dickson hasn’t shown he can consistently make the big catches. Neither have the other tight ends: Scott Simonson, Braxton Deaver and Beau Sandland. There aren’t a lot of tight ends as complete as Olsen.
Brown vs. Byrd: Wide receiver Philly Brown (5-foot-11) suffered a shoulder injury in practice this week and did not play. Brown missed time last season with a shoulder injury that was surgically repaired during the offseason. Damiere Byrd (5-foot-9) is about the same size and has impressed Carolina coaches during the preseason. They’re basically the same type of player, so if Brown’s injury lingers, it could be an either/or situation for the 53-man roster if the Panthers want to keep another big receiver.
Safety issue: With backup safeties Dean Marlowe (hamstring), Trenton Robinson (shoulder) and Marcus Ball out against the Patriots and no time set for their return, the Panthers are looking at Donte Whitner and Stevie Brown as possible signings to add depth. Whitner, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, possibly could push Tre Boston at free safety -- but not immediately -- if signed. The team likely will make a decision Saturday. Brown, meanwhile, would be strictly a backup.