Panthers look solid in Rivera’s debut

The Carolina Panthers may have defeated the New York Giants 20-10 Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium, but the bigger win was the replenishment of hope in the heart of every Panthers fan.

The Panthers moved the ball downfield, despite missing several offensive starters. Jimmy Clausen’s first pass down the middle of the field was an indication of the team’s intention of stretching the field.

Clausen made one bad pass, which was intercepted and taken back for the Giants’ only touchdown of the evening. Still, it wasn’t all on Clausen; RB DeAngelo Williams didn’t play the ball, and there seemed to be some miscommunication on the route.

Clausen and Williams led the team on a touchdown drive, hitting TE Greg Olsen in the end zone for their first offensive touchdown in five preseason games.

“This is a fun offense to be a part of, especially for a tight end,” said Olsen. “We are going to try to attack defenses and put them on their heels.”

Cam Newton replaced Clausen in the second quarter, looking poised and competent behind a shaky offensive line. While Newton did not have a touchdown pass, he did lead two scoring drives — both of which could have ended in touchdowns had it not been for a few questionable non-calls by the officials.

Some observers stated that Newton struggled with accuracy, however I don’t think that’s completely accurate. Many of Newton’s incompletions were either great plays by the defender, pass interference or drops by the receiver. Newton did have a handful of errant passes, but that has more to do with a porous offensive line and wet conditions.

“A lot of butterflies, a lot of adrenaline pumping,” Newton said. “But it was fun to start out on a positive note and keep all the juices flowing and the ball moving.”

It was definitely a change in philosophy from the predictability that plagued the team in the past.

“It feels great. It really does,” Head Coach Ron Rivera said after the game. “I’m very happy, very pleased, very proud of our guys. I thought they came out and did the one thing I asked for more than anything else – they played hard.”

Despite missing several defensive starters, the defensive unit played well, allowing only a field goal on their watch. One can only imagine how good the unit can be once all the pieces are full strength.

Perhaps the biggest boost of positivity came from WR Armanti Edwards, who not only fielded punts cleanly, but showed the electricity the Panthers expected when they traded up to get him in the 2010 draft.

Inside the stadium, fans were smiling, high-fiving and generally upbeat — as if they’ve been liberated from years of sports-oppression.

They finally have a reason to be optimistic again.