You can't manufacture the energy the Carolina Panthers had in their first exhibition Saturday night - a 20-10 win against the New York Giants. It is either there, or it isn't.
"Energy" was the word new Panthers coach Ron Rivera kept using in his postgame news conference. And it fit on a night that felt like the Panthers clicked a light switch and saw it actually brighten the room for the first time in a year.
As the Panthers begin their final three days in Spartanburg at training camp today, we know at the least this will be a more electric team than the 2010 squad. That's not a high bar to leap, of course, but it does promise that this season will not be as mind-numbing.
The Panthers' energy fed into the 45,000 or so hardy fans who showed up for a game that began in a steady downpour.
It stopped raining in the second quarter, coincidentally at about the time Cam Newton came in, and from then on the evening felt imperfect but very fresh.
Judging by the crowd noise, there are no two players Panthers fans want to see succeed more than Newton and Armanti Edwards. The two combined for the longest pass play of the night for Carolina - a 36-yarder - and Edwards also had two gorgeous punt returns.
Now that Edwards can actually catch the punts with confidence, his athleticism has started to take hold.
"Anytime you have a dynamic returner who can give you some energy, that's huge," Rivera said.
Newton threw an effective block on a double reverse that helped spring receiver David Clowney for an 11-yard run. Rivera didn't see the block at first, and when someone on the sideline mentioned it, he said: "I saw him (Newton) getting up and I thought, 'Oh my God, I hope he's using his left shoulder.' "
Newton wasn't - he led on the block with his throwing shoulder. But it worked out OK, just like most things did on a night in which the Panthers were missing five defensive starters and still held the Giants' offense to a field goal (New York's only touchdown came on a 56-yard return of Jimmy Clausen's interception).
Young Panthers players like Kealoha Pilares (a 35-yard TD catch), linebacker Thomas Williams (seven tackles and a quarterback sack) and cornerbacks R.J. Stanford and Kendric Burney had nice moments. There were errors, too - Mike Goodson fumbled twice.
But the defense seemed more aggressive and more effective. Said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who got nothing going in the first half, of the Panthers defense: "The safeties did a good job. They brought some good blitzes on third down. ... I thought they played well and had a good plan."
The game really didn't help much as far as deciding who should start at quarterback. I thought Clausen and Newton played to a draw, as Clausen led a fine touchdown drive to make up for his interception. Third-stringer Derek Anderson was actually the best of the three in terms of points per possession.
Rivera said Clausen made a mistake throwing behind DeAngelo Williams on the first-quarter interception. He said Newton sometimes stuck with his reads too long and also got over-excited in the red zone and overthrew a couple of balls.
Newton led Carolina to two field goals, five punts and no TDs in seven possessions. Both Clausen and Newton struggled on third downs - and weren't helped by a couple of drops - as the Panthers went 1 for 13 on third-down conversions.
"I think they're making progress," Rivera said of his quarterbacks. "I think they have a lot of growing to do but I thought they both did some good things that gave us some energy."