CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers kicked off a much anticipated year of football Saturday, but that didn’t stop the Houston Texans from stealing the show.
Tied 13-13 at halftime, the Texans scored 13 unanswered second-half points on their way to a 26-13 preseason victory over the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.
Houston jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the first quarter behind a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Trindon Holliday.
“I’m truly disappointed in the kickoff coverage,” said Panthers coach Ron Rivera. “It all starts with the kick being short, first and foremost, and then our inability to get off of blocks and separate. I will watch that tape most certainly and draw conclusions after I’ve seen it.”
Cam Newton and the Panthers’ first team offense got several reps in the first quarter, but exited after their third series on the field with around three minutes left in the opening stanza.
Newton finished the game 2-of-6 passing for 17 yards and rushed twice for 16 yards.
“Well, I think if you looked at what happened in the first quarter with our first bunch, there are some positives,” Rivera said. “We moved the ball. We did some good things as far as the offense was concerned. There were some reasons to be optimistic about some of the things we did.”
After trading field goals early in the second quarter, back-up quarterback Derek Anderson led the Panthers on an eight-play, 83-yard drive capped by a 1-yard punch-in by rookie running back Tauren Poole to tie the contest heading into the halftime break.
Panthers rookie linebacker and first round draft pick Luke Kuechly, who played in the first half, had a solid debut in the contest, garnering two tackles (two assists) and also a forced fumble.
“I think Luke came out and showed what he is capable of doing as far as a football player is concerned,” Rivera said. “He said to me ‘Man, it happens fast.’ Once he got past that first series, you saw what he was capable of. He is a smart football player, he is an athletic guy and he made some things happen.”
In the second half, the Texans maintained possession for 16:59. Overall, they controlled 37:41 of clock in the game.
Houston notched a pair of field goals, including a 37-yarder by former Panther Shayne Graham — his second of the contest — and a 52-yarder by Randy Bullock.
The Texans also added a 3-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Grimes that capped an 11-play, 61-yard drive in the third quarter.
“I think the game got away from us in the second half,” Rivera said. “I was truly disappointed. I expected some other guys to step up and make some plays, and some guys didn’t. That’s disappointing when you have an opportunity to play this football game. You have to play it with a sense of urgency, and we didn’t do that, especially in the second half. That is very disappointing, and I will work to get that corrected because that is on me.”
The Panthers are back in Spartanburg, S.C. for the final week of training camp, which ends Wednesday, before hosting the Miami Dolphins this Friday at 8 p.m. in the team’s final preseason home game at Bank of America Stadium.
After that, Carolina travels in its final two preseason games, including at the New York Jets on Sunday, Aug. 26 and at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, Aug. 30.
Rivera said his team will be more prepared when it hits the field again this Friday night.
“I think we had opportunities to get (Houston) down, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “It is most certainly disappointing. The nice thing about it is it is a preseason game. We will learn from this preseason game, we will get better and continue to work on that phase of the game.”