INDIANAPOLIS – The Carolina Panthers concluded three days of joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts falling short Sunday with a 21-18 preseason game loss at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Sam Ehlinger led a game-winning drive in the final 6:09 of the 4th Quarter, as Eddy Piniero converted a 30-yard field goal to win it for the Colts.
The Panthers third-team and lower players failed to follow up a decent first-half showing from most of the Panthers second-team players on both sides of the ball.
PJ Walker kept the lead in the race for the backup quarterback spot with his play in the first half, though Head Coach Matt Rhule said he’s still wanting to evaluate both players after the remaining two preseason games.
Walker’s day included a touchdown pass to Tommy Tremble, along with 10-of-21 passing for 161 yards.
The game turned when the Panthers committed three false starts in a row on their last offensive, forcing them to punt the ball back to the Colts with less than 6:30 to play in the fourth. They got the ball back with only seven second left needing a miracle.
Most of Will Grier’s day involved dropback handoffs to try and hold the lead, but after the game Grier said Head Coach Matt Rhule will allow him the ability to showcase himself more as a passer this preseason.
Grier was 6-of-10 passing for 31 yards, all coming in the second half.
The game and weekend had its bright spots, however, as the defense turned in three sacks, including one from Marquis Haynes who forced and recovered a fumble on the same play. The Carolina defense forced three turnovers, including once a muffed punt by Indianapolis, but scored just six points off the Colts’ miscues.
Rhule said after the game they got everything they wanted out of this weekend except the win.
“We want to win everything that we do. For us to have a lead late in the game and not put the game away is not what we want to do,” Rhule said. “The 2s & 3s aren’t playing today, the Carolina Panthers are playing today. We had a chance to hopefully learn from this and grow, and become a better team. We got the lessons from it, but we didn’t get the win which is what we came for.”
The Panthers’ lone touchdown came on a play that wasn’t supposed to happen, as both Rhule and Walker confessed after the game that the play was supposed to be one to draw the Colts offsides. Instead, Walker threw a ball intended for Omar Bayless in the back of the end zone, which tight end Tommy Tremble cut in front of to squeeze it in his chest for six.
In terms of good observations from the week that was in Indy:
- The pass rush definitely showed out during the game and throughout the joint practices. Brian Burns was a beast off the edge, telling reporters on Friday that he would be ready to play (Week One opponent) the Jets tomorrow, if needed.
- The Panthers had some players on defense fighting for spots have some real strong games, including Sean Chandler, Stantley Thomas-Oliver and defensive lineman LaDarius Wiley who had two tackles for loss.
- Joe Charlton averaged 51.3 yards per kick on punts, and was big in the field position game
- Joey Slye made 4-of-5 field goals, missing one from 63 yards at the end of the first half. He also missed a 43-yard extra point after a 10-yard penalty on a two-point conversion attempt
- Chuba Hubbard had tough sledding at first, but burst out on a 59-yard run in the second quarter for his most explosive play of the preseason.
- Terrace Marshall, Jr. continued his sparkling camp with a three-catch, 88 yard performance against the Colts. His lone blemish came on that play, however, as he was stripped from behind. Fortunate for him, the ball rolled out of bounds and the Panthers maintained possession.
- The pass protection held up nicely, with Brady Christiansen getting work at both right tackle and left guard. The team as a whole surrendered just one sack.
Now for the areas of improvement:
- The team did give up way too many explosive plays on defense, an area they need to curtail.
- The number of false starts reached epic proportions, especially the three committed late in the game.
- The defense gave Sam Ehlinger way too much time during his scramble-drill runs, allowing the Colts to salt away the clock and leave no time left for the Panthers to counter.
- The defense failed to get off the field on third down, a major problem last year, as Indianapolis converted 9-of-16 attempts to move the chains when it counted.
- The Panthers need to come away with more than six points off of turnovers.
NEXT: The Panthers will practice once by themselves in Spartanburg Tuesday, before hosting the Baltimore Ravens for their final two sessions in the South Carolina Upstate. Carolina will host Baltimore Saturday night at 7 PM at Bank of America Stadium.