Behind Norman, Panthers win preseason opener

Josh Norman might of had some rookie jitters in 2012, but he certainly showed none in Friday night's preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

Norman, a Coastal Carolina product, intercepted two passes and returned one of them for a touchdown in the Panthers' 24-17 victory against the Bears at Bank of America Stadium.

"It felt good. To come out here for a game with an atmosphere like this is great," Norman said. "I'm calmer this time around as opposed to my rookie year."

The first pick by Norman came on Chicago's first offensive play โ€” a pass by Jay Cutler intended for wideout Alshon Jeffrey. Norman returned the ball inside the red zone to the 18-yard line.

"Coach called cover one. I pressed (the receiver), and he ran an in-route โ€” like a slant," Norman said of interception play. "I squeezed him, came over the top and got my hands on it. I double-caught it. At first, I missed it and came back and caught it. I'm glad I was in the right spot."

The Panther capitalized on the turnover, eventually scoring on a three-yard pass from quarterback Cam Newton to wideout Brandon LaFell.

"That first interception by Josh to got the crowd into it and gave us momentum. It put us in a good swing of things," Newton said. "We're going to need more of that. Sometimes, it is going to be the offense that sets the precedence. In this case, it was defense that set the precedence to get us over the hump today."

Chicago's defense also shined in Friday's game.

On the Panthers next possession, Newton was intercepted by Bears middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic, who returned it 51 yards for tying touchdown.

Early in the second quarter, the Bears took their first lead of the game on a 35-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.

With most of their second string in for preseason, the Panthers scored just before halftime to take a 14-10 lead.

Rookie running back Kenjon Barner, a sixth round pick out of the University of Oregon, scored from five yards out to give Carolina a four-point lead heading into the break.

"We ran a power play," Barner said. "I saw (offensive lineman) Garry Williams doing what he does in practice โ€” making a great block. I ran right up behind him, and he took me into the end zone."

Norman, who started 12 games at cornerback for Carolina last season, made another big defensive play midway through the third quarter.

He intercepted Bears third-string quarterback Matt Blanchard and returned it 60 yards for the touchdown, leaping into the crowd in celebration.

"Every chance I had to make count," Norman said. "I'm very fortunate and blessed to be doing what I do every day."

Both teams scored early in the fourth quarter.

Chicago added a four-yard touchdown run by running back Michael Ford in the quarter, while Carolina kept a one-touchdown advantage behind Graham Gano's 50-yard field goal.

The Bears attempted to score and tie the game in its final two minutes, but Blanchard's fourth down scramble came up short.

The Panthers have now won 11 of their 19 preseason openers all time.

Carolina's next two preseason games are on the road, including at Philadelphia on Thursday and at the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 22.

The Panthers return home for their final preseason game on Aug. 29 against the Steelers before kicking off their regular season at home against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Sept. 8.