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New Panthers offense makes impressive debut in preseason opener

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Their running backs found holes and cut against the grain to rush through them. They mixed the pass and run. They converted on third down. They found Steve Smith in the red zone.

The Carolina Panthers' new offense sure looked a lot better than last year's struggling unit in Saturday's preseason opener.

"It was huge," quarterback Jake Delhomme said of the opening 13-play, 81-yard touchdown drive in their 24-21 win over the New York Giants. "That was something we talked about all week as players because this is a new system for us. We did a lot of new things out there and it was nice."

Under new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, the Panthers did things they didn't or couldn't do under Dan Henning last year.

Granted, it was against a Giants defense that played a basic system and was missing Michael Strahan, the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end who is deciding whether to play this season. But it allowed the Panthers to return to training camp Sunday full of confidence.

"Offensively we're trying to make a statement this year and to be more balanced and more successful," Smith said. "It was really good for us to put together a drive like that."

DeShaun Foster took advantage of Carolina's new zone blocking scheme, twice cutting back to the other side of the field and plowing through holes for gains of nine and 15 yards. Those big gains were rare last year when the Panthers ranked 24th in rushing and were forced to throw 56 percent of the time.

The Panthers also used screen passes and threw to the tight end Saturday night, things they almost never did under Henning.

Carolina, which had the league's worst third-down conversion rate last season, converted all three chances on the first drive. Then Delhomme, who struggled to get the ball to Smith last season, found his star receiver over the middle for a 5-yard touchdown pass.

Not a bad debut for Davidson, the former New England and Cleveland assistant who's trying to jump-start an offense that averaged only 16.8 points a game last season, sixth worst in the NFL.

"Guys have been buying what the coaches are selling," guard Mike Wahle said. "It was a good first outing for us."

Delhomme completed 5 of 8 passes for 30 yards before sitting out the final three quarters.

Foster rushed for 62 yards on five carries. Nick Goings, filling in for the injured DeAngelo Williams, added 50 yards on 11 carries. With the new zone blocking opening up more holes, both backs picked up big yardage on cutback runs.

"It's a little different scheme for us," coach John Fox said. "This opened up some of those opportunities."

And while the second-team offense wasn't as efficient, David Carr completed 6 of 8 passes for 83 yards, and Taye Biddle caught touchdown passes of 23 and 85 yards from Carr and third-stringer Brett Basanez.

"I was proud that, in and out of the huddle, we were crisp," Delhomme said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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