CHARLOTTE -- Granted, both sides were playing without a load of first-stringers.
But for starters, the Carolina Panthers couldn't be anything but encouraged.
The Panthers finally put away the Indianapolis Colts 23-20 in overtime, but the way they finished the first quarter had everyone at Bank of America Stadium smiling.
The defense looked fast, even without five of their regulars and against a Colts team which was missing this guy named Peyton Manning.
But it was the offense that stole the show, and that was without quarterback Jake Delhomme completing a single pass -- or having to face Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders.
They were able to cruise early thanks to the running of DeAngelo Williams, who had 55 yards on nine carries, including a pair of touchdown runs.
That made it easy for the first offense, which barely had to break a sweat to build a big lead.
Those waiting for Delhomme to take a good hit or be tackled are going to have to wait until Thursday when they go to Philadelphia to exhale.
In his first game appearance since last October's elbow reconstruction surgery, Delhomme threw one pass and it was incomplete. He went for a fade to Muhsin Muhammad on his only attempt, but it was batted away.
Other than that, all he had to do was turn around and hand it to Williams, thankful for the field position they were given. Williams needed four carries to get the 19 yards left for a touchdown, but the last one he could have run much farther.
There were consistent holes up the middle for Williams, with the right side of guard Keydrick Vincent and tackle Jeff Otah clearing lanes.
The starting defense, or what was left of it after a string of minor injuries in camp, created a pair of short fields for the offense to take advantage of.
Julius Peppers sacked Colts quarterback Jim Sorgi and forced a fumble on the first Indy possession, and linebacker Adam Seward intercepted Sorgi on the first play of the next drive. That one was created when Peppers came around the back side, pressuring Sorgi into defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu, who was beating the quarterback about the head and shoulders as he squeezed the pass out.
Williams then took the next play from scrimmage 10 yards for his second touchdown, giving the Panthers a 14-0 lead with 11:41 left in the opening quarter.
The Panthers have prided themselves on creating turnovers, throughout their existence. Since 1995, when they entered the league, their 424 takeaways are tops in the league.
Even last year, with everything else going bad, they were tied for 11th in the league with 30 takeaways. Since coach John Fox took over in 2002, they've created 192 turnovers, and only Baltimore (195) has more over that span.
The Colts finally scratched against the starters after the two quick blunders, getting a field goal against the Panthers starting defense on their third drive. Their first touchdown came in the second quarter -- after the Panthers starting defense was done for the night. That featured giant quarterback Jared Lorenzen using his legs to set up his 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme.
The pair hooked up again with 1:55 left in the half, this time from 15 yards away.
A pair of John Kasay field goals (from 35 and 38 yards) gave the Panthers a 20-17 lead at halftime.
Third-string quarterback Brett Basanez took over in the third, and would probably rather Moore stayed out there.
His first possession ended when fullback Troy Fleming fumbled, and then Basanez' deep attempt for Jason Carter was picked off by Colts cornerback Keiwan Ratliff.
That one became quick drive for the Colts under quarterback Quinn Gray, resulting in a 34-yard field goal for Adam Vinatieri which tied the score at 20 with 3:58 left in the third.
It appeared the Panthers were going to cough up the lead in the fourth, after a long Colts drive headed by quarterback Quinn Gray. But undrafted rookie safety Joe Fields picked off Gray's fourth-down pass from the 10-yard line, keeping the game tied.
Panthers safety Quinton Teal got the pick the next time Gray offered one up, but fourth quarterback Lester Ricard was unable to do anything with it after taking over at his own 40-yard line.
The Panthers got one last chance after sticking the Colts in their own end (including a 10-yard sack by Casper Brinkley).
After a pair of Ricard completions to Dominique Thompson and William Buchanon, the Panthers got a pass interference call on Colts defensive back Brandon Foster which moved the ball to the Colts 19.
A pair of DeCori Birmingham runs put Kasay in position for a 27-yard chip shot with :01 left, but Jason Kyle's snap hit the leg of his left guard (Milford Brown) and never made it to holder Jason Baker.
The Colts lost the overtime coin toss, giving the Panthers the first crack at ending the game.
Chris Hannon nearly ended it on the second play, taking a simple wide receiver screen 46 yards to the Colts 27 before he was pushed out of bounds. A review backed the ball up to the 36 (ruling that Hannon stepped out earlier), but Kasay missed a 51-yard field goal attempt that could have ended it.
They got yet another chance after stopping the Colts on a fourth-down attempt (with James Anderson and Hilee Taylor keying the play), eventually setting up a 46-yard Kasay attempt that mercifully brought the game to an end.
Today, The Herald continues counting down the top 5 most popular Panthers players of all time, as chosen by visitors to heraldonline.com. The fourth most popular player is Jake Delhomme, a quarterback who has played with the Panthers since 2003. Look for a poster page for Delhomme on page 7B.