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Poor play earns more play for Panthers' No. 1s

FootballPro FootballCarolina PanthersRon RiveraCam NewtonKenjon BarnerPhiladelphia Eagles

The Sports Xchange

NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - INSIDE SLANT

In a good performance against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, it appeared that the Carolina Panthers were headed in the right direction.

But Friday night in New England, the Panthers were pitiful, leaving head coach Ron Rivera lamenting his team's lack of consistency.

"We had opportunities to make plays; we didn't make the plays. We make a block; we miss a block," Rivera said. "We complete a pass; we miss a pass. We had an opportunity to stop a team on third down, and we didn't do that."

While the defense had its own issues, the glaring deficiencies were on offense. There was not one person or unit to blame. Quarterback Cam Newton, the running backs, the offensive line -- they all had a hand in an uninspiring performance.

So instead of watching Thursday's preseason finale from the sideline in Pittsburgh, the starting offense will play. How much they'll be out there is unclear, but it is obvious they need more work together.

"It was very evident that we've got to get (Newton) out there," Rivera said. "We've got to get our quarterback out on the field, and he's got to get some timing with those guys."

Not surprisingly, Newton's timing with his buddy and rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin appears OK. They connected five times against the Patriots, giving them seven completions in two games. But Newton twice overthrew Greg Olsen, his tight end the last three seasons, and new wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant didn't catch a pass. In their two games with Newton, Avant has the only reception between the veteran receivers.

"When you look at the film, we're getting open. But at the same time, you've got to develop that trust in the game," Avant said. "In practice, we have it, but you've got to constantly see a person open, and constantly see a person doing the right thing, and then make the decision and say, 'He's always in the spot, so I can trust him to throw it there.'"

It is obvious the combination of a host of new players and a quarterback that has been back on the field for less than a month needs more time to jell. When the Panthers return to practice Sunday, they'll have two weeks before the season opener in Tampa Bay. That does not give them much time, but they do have one more good chance to cram.

"I knew they had to play (against the Steelers), but just how much was really dependent on how well they played tonight," Rivera said. "And obviously we didn't play well enough."

Newton was not available to the media after Friday's game because he was in pain from taking a shot to the back/ribs during a scramble. X-rays came back negative.

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NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - NOTES, QUOTES

--The Panthers got something for a guy they were likely going to release for nothing in the next few weeks. Well, conditionally.

Tuesday's night trade of running back Kenjon Barner to the Eagles netted the Panthers a conditional 2015 seventh-round draft pick. In trades like this, the condition is typically one that requires the player to make his new team's 53-man roster.

So, if Barner is still with the Eagles at the end of the month, the Panthers probably get that seventh-rounder. If he's not, they won't.

There are only two backs in Philadelphia guaranteed to make the roster: LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. The guys next in line, Chris Polk and Matthew Tucker, are each battling hamstring injuries.

Barner can also return kicks -- and guess what -- Josh Huff, who had been doing that for the Eagles, sprained his shoulder Friday against the Patriots.

So Barner has a decent shot to stick -- at least temporarily -- especially considering he's reuniting with his former college coach.

"Kenjon will hopefully bring some depth to both our running back and return positions," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said in a statement. "He's obviously a guy I know really well from Oregon, where he had a very productive career. He has a lot of speed, explosiveness and had a knack for making some really big plays. But our plan with him right now is get him in Philadelphia as soon as we can and plug him in at running back and returner and let him compete."

After putting on 15 pounds this offseason, the still-slight Barner fell out of favor with the Panthers in the preseason opener. In his first professional start, he mustered just eight yards on eight carries against the Bills.

The 2013 sixth-round pick rarely saw the field as a rookie. A preseason foot injury set him back, and he didn't stand out among Carolina's deep backfield.

Barner ends his Panthers career playing 25 regular-season snaps, rushing six times for seven yards, catching two passes for seven yards and returning two kickoffs for 17 yards.

--The Panthers are planning to have Byron Bell start the season at left tackle, even though they still have not made it official.

"He's done such a good job, I'm going to say it's a fait accompli," head coach Rivera said after Tuesday's practice. "He and I will sit down and have a conversation about it. I'm going to talk to the coaches to make sure we're all set, we're all confident, we're all comfortable."

The Panthers signed Bell as an undrafted rookie out of New Mexico in 2011. He started all but one game at right tackle the last three seasons.

--After catching a pass that had sailed out of bounds late in the first half Sunday, receiver Kelvin Benjamin exchanged words with Chiefs cornerback Chris Owens. Benjamin then tossed the ball at Owens before adding a head-butt and a shove to the facemask. The Panthers' first-round pick was flagged for unnecessary roughness, knocking the offense out of field-goal range.

"No, he didn't push me," Benjamin said when asked what Owens did to get under his skin. "He was just talking, just being a defensive player, I would say."

FOX cameras captured Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Benjamin having a one-way chat as they went to the locker room for halftime. But Rivera claimed he wasn't necessarily upset at his star rookie.

"I told Kelvin that this is going to happen. A guy is going to try to get inside your head and get you to play outside of your game, and that's what we talked about," Rivera explained.

"This is also one of those things where you have to stand up for yourself. There's a point where you have to draw a line, and a guy has to understand that if you do this and continue to do this then I'm going to draw a line in the sand. I told him that if you want to go get back at somebody, just go make a play."

--It took Jonathan Stewart less than half a quarter to match his touchdown total from the last two seasons. After gaining 17 yards on his first carry, the oft-injured running back had two short scores against the Chiefs.

Before Sunday, Stewart hadn't scored since a loss to the Bucs on Nov. 18, 2012. To find the last time he had more than one touchdown in a game, you have to go all the way back to a win versus the Falcons on Nov. 15, 2009.

"It felt good. It's been a while since I've touched the end zone," Stewart said. "It's good to get my feet wet and get back in the groove of things."

And sure, it's just the preseason, but Stewart's successful return should serve as a reminder that he's still capable of being the team's best back.

"He fights for every yard. I think with that you get some of the nicks and knacks that he gets," center Ryan Kalil said. "I know it kills him to not be able to stay out there all the time, but it's part of the game. When he does get back out there, you realize why he is so special and why you keep giving him chances to come back."

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Charles Godfrey vs. Bene' Benwikere at nickel corner. The Panthers converted Godfrey from safety this offseason, but he has struggled. Benwikere, a fifth-round pick in May, saw more snaps with the ones Tuesday, and he should get a chance with the starters Friday against the Patriots.

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NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--SS Robert Lester was carted off with a sprained ankle in the second quarter. X-rays came back negative.

--DE Greg Hardy aggravated a shoulder injury early in the second quarter, but he was able to finish the first half.

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