Mistake-prone Panthers fall 34-27 to Titans

Sunday, August 20, 2017
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Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) scores a touchdown on a 17-yard run.
Mark Zaleski

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVD) -- Ron Rivera was not too pleased with the Panthers' offensive intensity in their final practice before this game in Nashville. In the first quarter versus the Titans, that lethargic effort carried over.

Two of Carolina's first three drives ended in crippling turnovers that led to Titans touchdowns in the 34-27 loss.

"I gotta be a little bit better. I tried to force one into Greg (Olsen) and unfortunately it got (intercepted)," starting quarterback Derek Anderson said. "We did some good things. It obviously didn't show up as much as we'd like."

It wasn't all negative. Christian McCaffrey continued his progression with a Panthers' lift. The rookie finished with two catches for 39 yards, three carries for 33 yards and a rushing touchdown.

"You always hold your breath when he's got the football - especially when he's got space," Ron Rivera said. "That's one of the things that we have to do to make sure we're putting him in a position to have that kind of success."

McCaffrey very well may have been off to a huge statistical day. But it's preseason, and his touches were limited.

"It was definitely real good getting out there and getting loose a little bit. It's also kind of a tease because as soon as you feel like you're in a rhythm and you're ready to go, you get pulled," McCaffrey said. "But that's what the preseason is for, is just to kind of get ready to roll, and whenever they call me, that's when I'll be there."

McCaffrey's second-quarter 17-yard touchdown run got the Panthers on the board after the slow start, making the score 17-7.

Carolina pulled within 24-17 in the third quarter on Cameron Artis-Payne's 1-yard score.

In the end, the Titans needed another turnover - a sack and forced fumble by Aaron Wallace that Jimmy Staten recovered at the 3-yard line - to set up David Fluellen's touchdown - to pull out the win.

On defense, Luke Kuechly watched from the sidelines in street clothes. The linebacker was held out because of sore ribs. In his place was David Mayo, who Rivera said filled Kuechly's shoes quite nicely with a team-leading 10 tackles.

"The biggest thing is he was physical," Rivera said. "That's what we're trying to get across - we've got to be a physical football team to give ourselves opportunities."

In the "QB shook moment" of the day, Julius Peppers showed Titans second-string quarterback Matt Cassel exactly why he's not the guy you want barreling toward you under pressure. After the game, Rivera echoed what every Panthers' fan was thinking during that moment.

"Get him," Rivera said with a laugh. "Julius is just a tremendous athlete, and he does a tremendous job keeping himself in shape. I just really appreciate what he does for us. He's a senior guy out there and he just plays hard."

Moving forward, the Panthers have a short week before they face the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Thursday. Question is, will Cam see playing time in Florida? When asked, Anderson said he has "no idea" if he'll remain the starter for the team's third tune-up, and Carolina continues to handle Newton's return with care.

"We're going to increase his throws, and we'll make a decision as to what's going to happen," Rivera said. "With him it's just going to be about how's he feeling, how's he feeling, how's he feeling."

"That's the biggest thing. But everything is trending up, and everything is positive."

A couple of injury notes: cornerback Dezmen Southward suffered a back injury for the Panthers, and wide receiver Brenton Bersin was hurt attempting to catch a pass on the Titans sideline and did not return.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.