If you ever wondered why Carolina Panthers coach John Fox coined the phrase "a punt is not a bad play," wonder no more.
Through three exhibitions, the Panthers' offense remains in shambles, the defense continues to shine, and the current club is looking more and more like Fox's first one here.
The Panthers actually beat the Tennessee Titans 15-7 Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium, but they hardly looked like a team prepared for the regular season.
Like Fox's 2002 team that scrambled to a 7-9 record, it appears this version is going to have to win with a lot of defense, and whatever amount of offense they can scratch together with an odd collection of parts.
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They haven't bothered running much this preseason (just 23 attempts Saturday). Instead, the emphasis has been on throwing, and they still don't have it down. They can't know at the moment who the second starting receivers is, or what they might do with him once they decide.
Despite that, Fox was plucking silver linings out of a storm front, saying "we've still got a lot of work to do, but I saw improvement tonight."
Quarterback Matt Moore played into the fourth quarter, and was 18-of-33 passing for 190 yards. There were moments of competence, namely a two-minute drive just before halftime that was in position for points before Wallace Wright fumbled it away.
But for the most part, he looked no more sure of himself than he has the rest of the preseason.
In three games, he's 28-of-57 for 297 yards and an interception, for a rating of 56.1. Considering he carried an awful 34.9 rating into Saturday's game, it stands as some degree of progress.
Playing without receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart, there's a ceiling on what Moore can be expected to do, and he shrugged when asked if he could gauge where the passing game stands at the moment.
"It is what it is. I bet you never heard that one before," Moore cracked. "We've had a lot of guys working a lot of different positions. We're working on it, guys are getting better, we're all getting better, and that's kind of the state we're in now.
"Do we know there's bigger things we need to do? Yeah. There's plays we need to make and are going to be made, but I was happy with the way things went tonight."
The development was definitely incremental, and late-developing.
The first offensive points came in the third quarter, when Moore cobbled together a six-play, 49-yard drive (highlighted by a nifty screen pass to Tyrell Sutton for a 20-yard gain). Kicker John Kasay pushed one through from 43 yards out to give the Panthers that elusive dent in the scoreboard with eight minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Panthers still haven't managed a touchdown when they begin with the ball, as the only six-pointers of the preseason are on fumble and kickoff returns.
"It's definitely nothing to throw up an alert over; it will improve, it will get better," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "That's the first thing we talked about before the game, the first thing we talked about at halftime, was the touchdown drought. Until it happens, that's what we're going to continue to talk about.
"Of course you want to score more than one, but one's where we're at right now. We need to have it happen, and until it does, that's what everyone will be talking about."
On the other hand, the first defense continued to play brilliant football.
They shut the Titans down in the first half when quarterback Vince Young and running back Chris Johnson were out there, allowing just 50 yards and four first downs before the break.
Consistent was the pass rush, as they had four sacks in the first half. Defensive end Charles Johnson became the latest to double-dip, with two in the first half to join linemates Tyler Brayton, Greg Hardy and Everette Brown, who each had a pair in previous games.
As a team, they have 18 sacks in three games, the kind of pressure no one could honestly say they saw coming.
There were leaks late against the reserves, as former Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jared Cook in the fourth quarter, giving the Titans a 7-6 edge with 12:30 left.
But Mike Goodson responded with a beautiful kickoff return, fighting his way out of traffic before bursting outside for a 91-yard touchdown and a 12-7 lead moments later.
An interception by cornerback Brian Witherspoon set up Kasay's third field goal of the night, a 41-yarder for a 15-7 lead with 8:13 left. Granted, that drive was complicated by three straight false start penalties, making it much more difficult than it had to be.
Witherspoon added a second pick on the next drive, which led to a rare sight. Backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen hit tight end Gary Barnidge for a 50-yard pass. That was nearly double the longest play from scrimmage in the preseason, eclipsing a 27-yard run by Goodson earlier in the night. There had been nothing longer than 26 yards in the first two games.