GREATER LANDOVER, Md. — For the first time since January 9th, the Carolina Panthers got to hit someone else as they defeated the Washington Commanders in their preseason debut. That might be a cliché, but it's a meaningful one, even if we should take the results of the preseason with a grain of salt.
The Panthers led most of the day but a 4th quarter comeback by the Commanders tightened the score. Zane Gonzales, who was 3-3 on the day, nailed the go-ahead field goal to give the Panthers a 23-21 win.
This was the first opportunity for the rookies and newcomers to don the Panthers' black and blue. Many of the stars and starters got little to no action, allowing the rookies and reserves a chance to prove they deserve playing time or a spot on the roster.
The Panthers' defense were on their P's and Q's from the start, holding the Washington offense to a 3-and-out on their first drive of the game.
Baker Mayfield lead the first offensive drive, a 13-play 54-yard effort that resulted in a Zane Gonzales field goal. The drive was humming along until Mayfield mishandled a snap on a second and 10 just outside the red zone. During an interview on the radio broadcast, Mayfield claimed he was so excited about a favorable look for the upcoming pass play that he tried to go a little too fast. The Panthers would be forced to settle for a Zane Gonzales field goal.
Carolina's defense forced a fumble on the ensuing Commanders' drive that set the Panthers up on the 19-yard line.
Sam Darnold got his chance to run the offense and quickly got them into the endzone, throwing a beautiful ball to Rashard Higgins in the corner of the endzone to push the Panthers' lead to 10.
Matt Rhule and the coaching staff would quickly remove the starters which allowed other players a chance to shine and a few rookies stood out on the defensive end.
First, rookie edge rusher Amare Barno picked up that fumble that set up the quick Darnold to Higgins score. Barno also forced an interception as he hit Washington QB Tyler Heinke as he threw. Fellow rookie Brandon Smith, a linebacker out of Penn St, delivered a few huge hits during the game.
On offense, rookie wide receiver Derek Wright continues to make a name for himself this preseason, hauling in all 3 of his targets for 46 yards. QB Matt Corral saw extended action in the 4th quarter but was constantly under pressure behind the 3rd team offensive line.
After a furious Commanders comeback led by former Tar Heel Sam Howell, Corral got a chance to drive down the field for the win. All hope looked lost as the Commanders brought a blitz that Carolina's line could not handle leading to what appeared to be a fumble. That was overturned by a penalty that gave the Panthers a new life and a new first down. After some bad throws by Corral another penalty, this time a 15-yard facemask, once again bailed out the Panthers setting them up in field goal range. Zane Gonzales would squeak the go-ahead field goal passed the uprights.
The majority of the day played out well for the Panthers and even though it wasn't pretty, Carolina started off the preseason on the right foot with a 23-21 victory over former head coach Ron Rivera and the Washington Commanders.
- Baker Mayfield: 4/7, 45yds, 1 drive: field goal
- Sam Darnold: 2/3, 16yds, 1 TD, 2 drives: one touchdown, one punt
- PJ Walker: 10/19, 136 yds, 3 drives: turnover on downs, touchdown, field goal
- Matt Corral: 1/9, 11yds, 3 drives: 2 punts, field goal