There was a greater sense of optimism about the Panthers' future, even in defeat, after Sunday's loss to the Cardinals, as rookie QB Cam Newton exceeded expectations — and broke records — in his debut.
After a 2-14 season, watching the offense rack up 477 yards was an unfamiliar and welcome sight to Panthers fans used to seeing Jimmy Clausen struggle to move the chains.
The excitement was tempered on Monday, however, as head coach Ron Rivera said that MLB Jon Beason had torn his Achilles tendon in Sunday's game and will undergo season-ending surgery this week. Rivera described Beason's situation as dire after the game Sunday, so we had a pretty good idea of just how serious the injury could be. The injury occurred in the third quarter, when Beason fell to the ground while trying to chase down Cardinals TE Jeff King. He had to be carted to the locker room and did not return.
Carolina's Week Two game against the Packers will be the first that Beason, a fifth-year veteran, has missed since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2007.
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Beason, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, leaves a substantial void at middle linebacker. He's Carolina's most valuable player on defense and one of the league's best at his position. Beason set the tone for the defense, and his leadership will be missed.
Dan Connor is expected to start in his place, and veteran Omar Gaither will back him up. Connor has starting experience and the instincts and quickness to get downhill and stuff the run. He lacks ideal bulk, and durability hasn't been his trademark. One of the bigger concerns is that he will be exposed when dropping into pass coverage.
Beason has been a consistent and authoritative voice in the huddle and in the locker room, and now other players — DE Charles Johnson and LB Thomas Davis come to mind — will need to take on more responsibility in holding players accountable and setting an example, particularly for the defensive unit.
Beason's absence is also an opportunity for Newton. It may be too early for Newton to feel comfortable taking on more of a leadership role. He's been cautious about speaking out around veterans, but the team would like to see him be more assertive in that area, and commanding respect probably won't be much of a problem for Newton if he keeps playing well.
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