EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — What did we learn in the most important of Carolina’s four preseason games Sunday night?
We learned that the New York Jets couldn’t score a touchdown if they were on the field by themselves.
We learned that the most entertaining play in the Panther repertoire is a Cam Newton scramble. He scrambled for seven yards on the first play from scrimmage. Four plays later, he scrambled for nine.
A spontaneous run by a 6-foot-5, 245-pound player, who moves with style and grace, is mesmerizing. After his early success, the Jets stuffed him. He was caught behind the line, and later lost a fumble.
Still, there was the possibility something would happen. And in a game such as this one, that’s about all you can ask.
The Panthers opened the game with a 65-yard, 13-play drive that culminated in a 33-yard Olindo Mare field goal.
On their next four first-half drives, the Panthers moved 12, 34, 1 and 31 yards. The final drive ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Louis Murphy.
Carolina’s offense should be creative, innovative and effective. But the Jets held the starters to 3.9 yards a rush, with no gain longer than 15 yards.
Newton completed six of 15 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Seven of the passes were to wideouts; three were completed for 31 yards. Steve Smith did not make the trip because of, the Panthers say, an infected foot.
The starters staked the Panthers to a 10-9 lead, and Carolina won 17-12.
The Jets, who have not scored a touchdown in three preseason games, play the superior defense for which head coach Rex Ryan is known. They’re strong and fast and they muck up MetLife Field. It’s as if the Panthers were running in sand, lifting their legs high and slowly proceeding forward.
Carolina also played superior defense. But how good did the Panthers have to be? The Jets play as if they have a replacement offense. They scored six points in an opening exhibition loss to Cincinnati and three last week in a loss to the New York Giants.
When they didn’t stop themselves Sunday the Panthers stopped them. Captain Munnerlyn, who had twice been penalized, picked off a Mark Sanchez pass. On third and seven, linebacker Thomas Davis sacked Sanchez.
But if you were looking for a statement Sunday, it was this: The replacement referees make a long game longer.
Here’s another: Preseason football is an inferior product and this was an inferior game.
Obviously the Panthers don’t want to show too much and obviously they want to try to stay healthy and obviously we learned more watching the offense in Spartanburg than we did in New Jersey.
Carolina’s offense ought to be like a great car, sleek and fast and low to the ground, and look at the thing go. But on Sunday, they puttered in the right lane, turn signal flashing, stopping every few miles to pay a New Jersey Turnpike toll.
Maybe the regular-season opener is like a weekend, or like vacation, and it has to be earned.
After one more practice game, Thursday in Pittsburgh, we will have earned it.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119 or firstname.lastname@example.org